After enduring a rather bumpy relationship over the last few years, Facebook is extending an olive branch to publishers — a new system for selling online subscriptions to Facebook users.
In a blog post this week, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced some of the key features for the online subscription program under development.
Perhaps the most important element for publishers: Facebook won’t demand a share of subscription revenues for subs sold on its platform, according to Zuckerberg. “If people subscribe after seeing news stories on Facebook, the money will go directly to publishers who work hard to uncover the truth, and Facebook won’t take a cut,” he noted.
Zuckerberg added that Facebook intends to begin testing online subscription sales with a relatively small group of publishers in the U.S. and Europe later this year. After gathering their feedback with an eye to adjusting the system, it will roll out to a broader range of publishers.
As reported yesterday, Facebook is also displaying small publisher logos next to content in its trending and search features to help readers more easily identify news from trustworthy sources.
Zuckerberg added: “Eventually, our goal is to put a publisher's logo next to every news article on Facebook so everyone can understand more about what they’re reading.” Looking ahead, he wrote: “Giving people a voice is not enough without having organizations dedicated to uncovering new information and analyzing it.
"We’re going to keep experimenting with different ways to support the news industry and make sure reporters and publishers everywhere can keep doing their important work.”
According to some details released previously, publishers that use Facebook’s Instant Articles platform will be able to establish an online paywall, allowing readers access to a fixed total of 10 free articles per month. Or, they may opt to designate some articles as “premium” — requiring a paid sub to access — while others remain free.
It may be no coincidence that Zuckerberg’s announcement came on the heels of reports that Google is also working on an online news subscription service allowing publishers to charge readers for content, rivaling Facebook’s system.
Among other measures, Google is tightening its “first click-free” feature, which gives readers arriving via search limited free access to articles from publications with paywalls. Publishers are making three articles per day free to nonsubscribers, but Google is working with The New York Times to lower that number, putting more pressure on interested readers to subscribe.
Google is also testing online payments tools to enable publishers to conduct simple, streamlined transactions with subscribers, including via mobile payment. Finally, Google is working to help publishers reach new audiences and target potential subscribers through a suite of new solutions. It will also help gauge willingness to subscribe and price sensitivity for potential subscribers.