Traditional publishers are beginning to feel that the refreshing cool breeze of innovation they sensed on the back of their necks is turning into an icy chill of pure fear. And it’s coming from Facebook.
Well, that’s according to tech journalists Felix Salmon of The Guardian and David Carr of the New York Times, anyway. According to Carr, publishers tend to experience Facebook the way the rest of us would a big dog bounding towards us in the park. Does it want to play or eat?
Publishers like to play with the Facebook hound because it has a userbase of 1.3 billion and it’s done a great job at cleaning junk from its News Feed, fine-tuning it to feature premium quality content. The kind of stuff, that is, that media companies create.
It’s all in the algorithms, of course. But recently, there’s been something of a policy change at Facebook, too: it seems to have decided that sending it users to publishers’ sites is out, while hosting that content on its own servers is in.
What it boils down to is a wince-making dilemma for publishers. If they decide to play nice and share advertising revenue with the social media giant, it’ll wag its tail and play ball but they’ll lose invaluable data on their readers. On the other hand, if they walk away in a huff, they’ll certainly lose a major source of traffic.
As Felix Salmon notes, Facebook has evolved into a kind of parallel internet, and the more of its users it can keep within the efficient confines of its own app (where, of course, it controls everything – images, videos, words, scrolling, navigation, commenting, etc.), the more it can sell them, in carefully defined tranches, to relevant advertisers.
Clicking on a link to find that a publisher’s off-Facebook page loads so slowly you could mow the lawn before it appears may persuade users to remain in-app. But publishers tend to want control over the look and feel of their content, even when they make money by selling ads on their sites. And according to Salmon and Carr, they’re increasingly feeling that that big dog in the media park doesn’t look at all friendly right now.