Fair Deal Or Privacy -- Facebook And Apple Square Up On News

It has been mentioned in quiet rumours for a few months now, but it finally looks like Facebook will bite the bullet and launch its own news service. According to multiple reports, the social giant has softened its stance and is looking to pay top publishers lucrative licensing fees for their content.

Quite what the final service will look is unclear. Could it be an independent app, or a button at the top of the app that opens a news section for articles which then inform a trending bar to the side of the home page?

Regardless of how it is put together, the Facebook news service appears to be striving to offer a potentially more fair deal for publishers than Apple might as it prepares for the launch of its its News+ service.

We have to say "might" because it is unclear so far what Apple is offering, at least publicly. One article a few months ago suggested it was talking about a 50:50 revenue split, which the journalist suggested would have publishers running for the proverbial hills. How accurate that is, I don't know, and I guess only publishers currently being consulted on its new subscription service will know what is on the table. 

What we do know is that is rare for a publisher or app developer to walk away from Apple thinking they have got a good deal. The tech giant is renowned for taking nearly a third as its slice of the action and has come under heavy criticism not only for this initial fee but also subsequent (albeit reduced) charges for renewals. 

The flip side is that the tech giant is trying to become the new friend of the consumer, promising to only use data that is necessary to service their needs and to not go around selling data on their browsing habits to advertisers.

This puts it in direct contrast to Facebook, whose problems around user privacy are well documented -- leading to a recent $5bn fine from the FTC in addition to a £500,000 charge from the UK's ICO, the maximum fine open to the data privacy regulator at the time.

This will be a fascinating "Clash of the Titans" as two tech giants go head to head -- one offering to be the good guy who pays a decent fee for content use, and the other who is renowned for never leaving a dollar on the table but is vowing to protect user privacy.

You might well argue that consumers don't care how well publishers are reimbursed for content and that Apple's offering of better privacy will win the day.

However, that would miss an obvious point.

If Apple doesn't get its offer right, the premium content will go to Facebook, and that's where the users will go. 

I suspect this point is keeping the execs behind Apple News+ up at night and that we're in a fluid situation right now as deals, rights and ad revenue shares are being hammered out. 

Right now, if Facebook's privacy lapses of the past can be overlooked, it's hard to see how being paid to host content on the world's biggest social media platform can be beaten.

Whether all publishers, and not just the top news organisations, get the same deal remains to be seen. But one place to access multiple premium publishers is going to prove a truly useful service and I have a hunch publishers may well try both but ultimately go for the one that offers the best deal and the best place where articles can be shared for additional ad revenue.

It will be a fascinating evolving story to follow as Autumn's launches are worked out, but it's hard to see how Facebook doesn't look like it will be the most promising bet for publishers, which will mean consumers are more likely to follow suit.  

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