Starting April 12, Facebook will open its Instant Articles feature to all publishers. So far, it’s been a relatively small — but high-profile — batch of outlets that have been using the service, including BuzzFeed, the New York Times, Washington Post and National Geographic magazine.
Zuckerberg & Co. enticed them with some pretty nice incentives — “an offer you can’t refuse” territory, such as keeping 100% of ad revenue they generate themselves. (For now.)
This represents a move toward “distributed content” – the concept of news organizations publishing their stories and videos on a variety of platforms without expecting to get traffic back to their own website. Some publishers are wary, but others have embraced it.
This is especially true of BuzzFeed, which by some estimates garners 60% of all its audience through Facebook alone.
Users are slowly ramping up, and many rave about the bright, interactive experience of reading news through Instant Articles, especially on mobile devices. And it’s generally smoother and faster than trolling around a news website on your smartphone, with people in Hong Kong reporting loads that are 10 times faster.
But as Fortune reports, there are challenges as well as opportunities with distributed content.
“Some publishers have seen traffic from Facebook plummet by 40%, which reinforces the risks of handing control over your audience to the social network.”
And TechCrunch notes that Instant Articles is effectively a closed shop. You may have a great consumer experience, but you can’t leave if you want to get that content.
“The program effectively bars the exits from Facebook. Rather than forcing people to wait for web pages to slowly load which can lead to frustration and them closing the app or clicking away to another website after, Instant Articles keeps people inside Facebook’s garden where they see ads and connect with friends.”
Facebook, Twitter and other distributed content platforms obviously wield enormous power over content creators. Facebook has 1.5 billion users, and hasn’t shown any reservations about tweaking their algorithms to determine which updates appear in a particular user’s news feed.
And, as Fortune’s Matthew Ingram writes, “Facebook also routinely censors news for a number of reasons, which is (or should be) problematic for media companies who are entering into a close relationship with the company.”
So whether you’re a digital age company like BuzzFeed or Huffington Post hungry for clicks, or a legacy media focused on protecting their brand, you should approach these new opportunities from Facebook and other distributed content platforms with eyes wide open.