Almost two years ago, Facebook rolled out Instant Articles. The new feature aimed at providing publishers with a more engaging platform on which to gather users, through faster loading times and a cleaner look and feel.
Not even 24 months later, many industry actors are already turning away from Facebook’s once praised idea. The Guardian recently joined a long list of lapsed Instant Articles promoters, including the NY Times, National Geographic and the Wall Street Journal. But why?
A lack of revenue
Despite promises of higher reader engagement, easier social sharing, as well as two revenue-generating options, Instant Articles did not deliver on the money front. Early adopters saw per-article-revenue lower than what they were making by linking readers to their respective websites.
Updates over the past year have helped increase revenue on the new platform, but they only brought Instant Articles’ revenue to parity with other media. Not a great deal when you are giving up your independence to Facebook.
While a low return on advertising is a problem, it is not the main issue. Many publishers believe paid-for journalism is the way of the future, and judging by recent numbers, it is hard to disagree.
This is where Instant Articles’ defining strength, not requiring users to leave the Facebook environment, becomes its main weakness. Publishers are prevented from re-directing users to their platforms, where they could be better monetised through paying subscriptions, more efficient ads or even donations. The growing list of content creators turning away from IA shows this is something they just cannot afford.
Facebook is not the only one in the business of offering fast-loading news. Cupertino has its Apple News feature, and Google developed Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP). The Guardian chose to focus on the latter, which integrates nicely in search engine results and does not confine users to a proprietary environment. But all options deserve a glance.
Publishers must ask themselves the following: what do they want? Apple news is easy to integrate with, but only works on iOS, in the US, UK and Australia. Google AMP allows for re-direction of users to any environment, but it only lives in the Google search engine, for better or worse. And Facebook’s IAs offer poor monetisation, but they reside in the newsfeed of 1.65 billion potential users. Horses for courses, they say.