Facebook Tests Subscriptions For Instant Articles

As expected, Facebook plans to begin testing a news subscription service over the next few weeks.

Publishing partners include The Boston Globe, The Economist, The Houston Chronicle, The San Francisco Chronicle, La Repubblica, Le Parisien, Spiegel, The Telegraph, The Baltimore SunLos Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune and The Washington Post.

Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at the social giant, confirmed the effort back in July.

“As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs,” Brown said at the time.

Offered through Facebook’s Instant Articles initiative, the subscription service will support a paywall for metered models.

The plan is to start with a uniform meter at 10 articles and test variations from there, while, with freemium models, publishers can control which articles are locked. 

When someone who isn’t yet a subscriber to a publication encounters a paywall within Instant Articles, they will be prompted to subscribe for full access to that publisher’s content.

If that person subscribes, the transaction will take place on the publisher’s website. The publisher will process the payment directly and keep 100% of the revenue.

The publisher and subscriber relationship will work the same way it does on their own sites today, in which the publisher has direct access and full control, including setting pricing and owning subscriber data.

These subscriptions include full access to a publisher's site and apps. Similarly, someone who is already a subscriber to a publication in the test can authenticate that subscription within Instant Articles in order to get full access to that publisher's articles.

If this test is successful, Facebook is expected to expand the subscription effort in 2018.

While Facebook is often accused of disrupting the news business, analysts argue the tech titan has a stake in their success.

“A strong publisher community is ultimately good for Facebook, because people are more likely to share quality content,” said Brian Wieser, a senior analyst at Pivotal Research. “Facebook is looking for synergistic opportunities with publishers.” 

For now, the subscription feature will only be available to users of Android devices. Sources tell Recode that Facebook and Apple have so far failed  to agree on subscription terms. Facebook declined to comment on Recode’s report.

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