Ditching Instant Articles? You’re Not Alone

Question: What do Cosmopolitan, CBS News, The Onion, National Geographic, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Weather Channel all have in common?

Answer: They were all initial partners in Facebook’s Instant Articles when it launched in 2015, and they all now seem to have abandoned it completely.

According to Pete Brown in the Columbia Journalism Review, research from the Tow Center finds that “more than half of Facebook’s launch partners on Instant Articles appear to have walked away.

“Of 72 publishers that Facebook identified as original partners in May and October 2015,” Brown writes, “our analysis of 2,308 links posted to their Facebook pages on January 17, 2018, finds that 38 publications did not post a single Instant Article—the platform’s fast-loading, native format.”

Image source: Columbia Journalism Review

Meanwhile, Facebook claims the platform enjoyed good growth last year.

“But if many of the largest reputable outlets are falling out, which publications are driving that growth?” Brown asks.

That’s a great question. Smaller publishers who see an opening in the space? More likely they are using the term “publisher” to mean anyone who pushes the “publish” button. We don’t know. But it seems clear that for big media brands, the bloom is off the IA rose.

When Instant Articles launched in 2015, the publishing world was torn. While many were skeptical, and others warned of the pending death of good journalism, many large media brands gave it a go. After all, when technology disrupts your business model, you look to technology to help create a new one. But as we learned what it’s really like for publishers using Instant Articles, it became clear that the drop in referral traffic and the less-than-expected revenues were not working for them.

According to Brown, this data from the original partners says a lot about the Instant Articles platform. He notes that “Facebook has struggled to persuade bigger publishers of the merits of Instant Articles.

“Of those in our sample, more have either abandoned or significantly scaled back their usage,” Brown continues. “What’s more, the proportion of posts published as Instant Articles has followed a downward trajectory in the two most recent analyses, falling to an all-time low of 37 percent in November 2017, our most recent snapshot.”

“With the news that Facebook has de-prioritized brand pages with its algorithm change,” Brown concludes, “there is arguably less incentive than ever for publishers to embrace Instant Articles.”