08:16 28th Oct, 2019
Publishing Industry Wary as Facebook Relaunches News
The publishing industry, especially the small and medium ones, could find themselves challenged as the 900-pound tech gorilla once again seeks news as a means for eye-balls
The publishing industry and Facebook have for long had a love-hate relationship given that the two could seldom decide whether they were competitors or a made-for-each-other couple. After testing waters some years ago, the tech giant re-launched a separate news section on its social network’s mobile app over the last weekend.
Known as Facebook News, the new section was rolled out for about 200K users in the United States with the offer of stories from CNN, NY Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, though detractors rushed to point out that even the far-right website Breitbart that has a history of publishing misleading stories on Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump.
However, Mark Zuckerberg was cautious. “We feel acute responsibility because there’s obviously an awareness that the internet has disrupted the news industry business model. We’ve figured out a different way to do this that we think is going to be better and more sustainable,” Zuckerberg was quoted as saying in the New York Times.
In the past, the California-based internet giant was criticised for pushing algorithmic content that essentially reinforced a reader’s beliefs instead of providing material that could help raise debate. So, this time round, the company has claimed that the news feed, once the testing phase gets over, would have some human touch in terms of editors curating content from partners.
In a blog post published last Friday, Campbell Brown, vice-president of global news partnerships at Facebook, claimed that the news articles would appear on a specific tab so that people have more control on stories they see and that the process was developed in consultation with publishers as well as on feedback from more than 100K users across the United States earlier this year.
The company also proposes to pay for the content that it acquires from the publishers with some deals likely to go into millions of dollars. However, there is no clarity about whom and how much they would be paying, though the blog post does appear to suggest that local news from small publishers in metropolitan markets could be a focus area in the future.
Does that mean the publishing industry can breathe easy for now? “When you build on someone else’s land, don’t be surprised when you’re bulldozed,” says Josh Constine of TechCrunch.com who had been a constant critique of Facebook’s move to enter the news business. Given Facebook’s “flawless” track record of pulling the rug from under publishers, no one should be surprised, he says.
Be that as it may, the immediate response from the publishing industry has been positive. Several publishers in the US, including BuzzFeed, Los Angeles Times and even Sydney Morning Herald have verbalised their support to the experiment, possibly due to the fact that Facebook has brandished a few million dollars that it plans to spend on content. And, media can do with the extra cash just now, given that advertising revenues are flat due to the global economic slowdown.
Is the mood sustainable? That’s anybody’s guess as in the past Facebook’s courtship of publishers have soured due to their shifting strategies that left the other side feel abused and abandoned. For instance, the company had heavily promoted Facebook Live videos and cutting deals with publishers, the company had decided against renewing contracts, leaving the media houses in the lurch.
Will it be any different this time? Josh Constine once again sums it up just about right. Facebook doesn’t philosophically care about news and the current move could just be part of strategy to find some support against the scandals that it’s currently battling, he says in the post while advocating that publishers should wait and watch for a while before casting their lot with the company.
“What’s not central to Facebook’s survival will never be central to its strategy. News is not going to pay the bills and it probably won’t cause a major change to its hallowed growth rate,” he concludes.
Looks like the company continues to suffer from a general perspective that it just cannot be trusted, be it with your data or with contracts that it signs up.
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