Any talk of Facebook building bridges with publishers may have to be put on hold. The world’s largest social network is testing a new format for its popular Newsfeed feature, which removes content posted by pages (including publishers) from the Newsfeed and relocates it to the new “Explore” Feed.
It’s worth noting that Facebook is testing the new feature in a few smaller markets overseas (Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Slovakia, Serbia, Guatemala, and Cambodia). There is no guarantee it will ever see a broader rollout, either in the U.S. or abroad.
Still, the test holds out the alarming possibility that Facebook, by moving publisher content to the harder-to-find Explore Feed, will effectively demote it in the big hierarchy of user attention — making it even harder for publishers to find and retain Facebook audiences.
Facebook launched Explore to expose users to content from sources outside their usual social-media context. By definition, it includes things users haven’t already expressed interest in. That's not exactly an ideal storefront for publishers or content creators of any stripe, especially considering it is a separate tab users choose to open.
In the tests, the main Newsfeed is devoted solely to news from friends, family, and other members of the user’s personal social network.
The results of the test in smaller markets are sobering for publishers.
One small publisher in Slovakia reports that while the country’s big newspapers and media companies fared better, small publishers have seen the organic reach of some of their Facebook pages fall by two-thirds. Facebook interactions, such as likes and shares, are down by a factor of four.
Back on the positive side of the ledger, Facebook has also begun testing a new system that will allow publishers to sell subscriptions and enforce their paywalls in coordination with the network. The new subscription sales tool, developed under the aegis of Facebook’s Journalism Project, is integrated with Facebook’s Instant Articles. It allows publishers to direct users to their own Web sites, off the Facebook platform, in order to sign up.
Facebook is offering publishers two paywall options, one which allows users to read up to 10 free articles per month before requiring them to subscribe, and another that allows publishers to choose which articles are free to view and which will be behind the paywall.
However, at launch, the new subscription sales system will only be compatible with Android devices. That's due to Facebook’s inability to come to an agreement with Apple over sharing revenue from the sales.