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LATEST 4 JUN. 2019

Facebook Expands Instant Articles Support for Subscriptions-Based News Publishers

Sameera Salari

Product Manager
Today we’re expanding support for subscriptions in Instant Articles to all eligible publishers. The tool allows publishers to define when a reader sees a paywall in Instant Articles, whether based on a metered model tied to a specific number of free articles per month or a “freemium” model that leaves certain articles open and others locked.
While some providers charge for distributing content and some charge for in-app purchases of news, we have elected to distribute news content free of charge and to provide all revenue from subscriptions directly to publishers. Subscriptions in Instant Articles gives publishers full control of the relationship with their readers. Subscription transactions take place directly on publishers’ websites, which allows publishers to directly manage subscriber data, payments and pricing. From our conversations with publishers we know that providing this level of flexibility and ownership is crucial to the development of their subscription businesses.
We recognize that no two publishers share the same business model. Publishers vary in the audiences they’re trying to reach, the types of journalism they produce, and their areas of expertise. This diversity means that when we build products, we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. As a result, we’re committed to building a portfolio of both on and off-platform products and programs that publishers can use depending on their specific needs and goals.
This suite of options includes tools for publishers to use in pursuit of both reader acquisition and retention. Acquisition-focused products include subscriptions in Instant Articles, a new membership product currently in testing called News Funding, paid marketing tools, Facebook Analytics, and programs designed to help publishers build their subscription and membership offerings. Our retention-focused tools include the Welcome Screen and subscriber-only posts (more on these features below).
Additionally, we’ve heard from subscribers that the relationship they have with publishers is important, and that they want to see more content from these publishers. So we are testing options for enabling subscribers to see more news content on Facebook.
Development of Subscriptions in Instant Articles
We’ve collaborated with more than 40 publishers from across the world over the last 18 months to test and improve subscriptions in Instant Articles. Over that time period, we’ve used publisher feedback to build out the functionality of the product, including simplifying implementation for publishers with varying systems, tools and resources. One key example of how we’ve made implementation easier for publishers is through our work to integrate with third-party paywall providers. For example, we have an ongoing partnership with Piano, a leading global subscription commerce and customer experience provider.
Tribune Publishing, which has had several properties in the test, has seen success with subscriptions in Instant Articles.
“Innovation – including Facebook’s subscriptions in Instant Articles product – has been key to our growth in digital subscriptions and revenue,” said Mark Campbell, Chief Marketing Officer at Tribune Publishing. “Audiences enjoy Instant Articles’ speedy platform, and we have realized monetization gains by using it with this new paywall. Broadly speaking, we at Tribune have benefited from coaching and collaboration on multiple Facebook projects like the Accelerator program, and will continue working with them to increase the number of people engaged with our journalism.”
As we expanded our test, we’ve helped publishers who were newer to subscription models develop a new line of business using subscriptions in Instant Articles.
One such publisher is Business Standard, a business-focused Indian newspaper. Business Standard was one of the first Indian publishers to experiment with an online user-funded business model. Shivendra Gupta, executive vice president of Business Standard, said subscriptions in Instant Articles will help the newspaper support its evolving business strategy.
“The Facebook teams, both local and international, have been more than forthcoming in technically hand holding us through the product integration phase and are now actively assisting us by providing useful marketing insights,” Gupta said. “We have witnessed an improvement in traffic and engagement through our Facebook feeds since this partnership, and look forward to it contributing significantly to our subscription numbers in the future.”
News phone screen visuals
Improving Subscriber Retention
As part of our testing of subscriptions in Instant Articles, we launched a “Welcome Screen” to encourage new subscribers to follow a publisher’s page and see more of that publisher’s content in News Feed. In earlier tests, the Welcome Screen increased the percentage of new subscribers who follow a publisher’s page from 54 percent to 94 percent, and also increased the articles read by subscribers on Facebook by 40 percent. The Welcome Screen is included for all publishers using subscriptions in Instant Articles.
We’ve also invested in ways to allow publishers to communicate directly with their subscribers on Facebook by allowing subscriber-only posting. Users can choose receive these posts through News Feed and via targeted notification. This feature is available to all publishers using subscriptions in Instant Articles, and we’re working to make it available to all publishers.
Introducing News Funding
Another product we’re testing with publishers is News Funding, which is focused on helping publishers build closer relationships with their readers. News Funding is designed for local and niche publishers interested in using a Facebook-based membership model. Supporters pay a recurring fee to back the publisher’s news gathering work, and in exchange gain access to supporter-only exclusive content or other benefits. Some publishers also have experimented with providing supporters access to local cultural events. We’ve been testing this product with a small number of publishers, and we’re now expanding the alpha test of News Funding to more publishers.
One of the publishers testing News Funding with is Animal Político, an investigative news outlet from Mexico. Animal Político has stood out for its innovative offerings to supporters, including Facebook Live sessions, advance summaries of upcoming stories, and early access to video content. Animal Político also has offered supporters a variety of off-platform benefits, including book giveaways, circus tickets and tours of art exhibitions. “The ideal business model for media must be through the collaboration with its audience,” said Daniel Moreno, Director of Animal Político. “News Funding is a fundamental door to get closer to our readers and involve them in the collaborative development of our journalistic work.”
Phone screen visuals
Advertising Tools to Support Publisher Goals
In addition to developing new products, we’ve been focused on helping publishers better leverage existing products to drive their subscription or membership businesses. Facebook’s advertising tools are helping publishers increase digital subscriptions and unique readers across their websites and apps.
As an example, leading French publisher Le Monde wanted to grow and monetize its readership by attracting new audiences, building even stronger relationships with existing readers, and promoting compelling digital news offers to people with a high likelihood of subscribing. Together with Facebook, Le Monde developed a comprehensive and personalized subscription journey for multiple audiences. Using a variety of Facebook products, including the Pixel, Facebook SDK and Custom Audiences, Le Monde was able to examine reader behavior across its website and mobile app and segment its readership into high-value audiences based on engagement and loyalty behaviors. This work resulted in a 20 percent increase in digital subscriptions in 2018, a 30 percent increase in unique readers across Le Monde’s website and app, and a steady cost per subscription of less than one-third of the lifetime value of each customer.
Analytics and Insights
We recognize the importance to publishers of understanding the performance of Facebook products as they determine business strategies and allocate resources. Facebook Analytics can be particularly insightful for publishers because it provides omni-channel, people-based insights throughout the funnel – from an article read to a subscription sign-up. This means publishers can measure the behavior of their audiences, with multi-surface users de-duplicated, across Facebook, Instagram, and publishers’ mobile apps and websites.
Publishers who use subscriptions in Instant Articles are able to analyze data about their customer journey within Facebook Analytics. We’ve worked with partners to build out a series of templates within Facebook Analytics that make this type of analysis simpler. If publishers prefer, they can also use a third-party analytics service.
Programs to Help Publishers’ Businesses On and Off Facebook
In addition to our on platform work, we’ve invested in supporting publishers as they build sustainable businesses off platform through our program work. The Facebook Local News Accelerator program is a key piece of this work. We launched this effort in the United States in 2018 to help local newsrooms with subscription and membership models.
The Denver Post, one of 14 metro publishers to participate in the The Local News Subscriptions Accelerator, used knowledge gained through the program to help boost digital subscriptions by 172 percent after shifting to a data-driven approach to subscription growth. This year, we’ve committed over $20 million to continue the local Accelerator in the U.S. and to expand the model globally, including in Brazil, Canada, Germany and Australia. As part of that work, we launched a follow-up Accelerator program with the original digital subscriptions participants in the U.S. focused on retention earlier this year.
Earlier this year, we also announced the Facebook Journalism Project Community Network, to support projects aimed at building community through local news. The FJP Community Network will be offering grants and opportunities for expert support. Whether a publisher is trying to build a new business around memberships, report in an underserved community, or build a tool that helps local storytellers find and engage news audiences — we want to provide runway for them to serve their community. Grant recipients will be connected to Facebook’s community of Accelerator alumni as well as to fellow grant awardees, establishing a network of experts and resources for continued support.
We look forward to continuing to help publishers grow their subscription businesses both on and off Facebook, and we’ll continue to support them as they create high-quality journalism.
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