How FB and Apple are About to Own the News

applefb-news“We’re not trying to go, like, suck in and devour everything.”

Thus spoke Facebook’s Chris Cox when interviewed by The New York Times about Instant Articles, the social media company’s plan to basically own the news feed from major publishers by hosting articles from news organizations on its system.

Let’s break it down. As Facebook rolls out Instant Articles, they are making publisher-partners offers they quite literally cannot refuse. Ads will either be sold by the publisher, or inserted by FB’s ad networks, at highly favorable rates to publishers. And with FB controlling the feed algorithm, publishers can expect exposure to be fantastic. So it’s no surprise they have some big names on board for the launch.

“Nine media companies, including NBC News and The New York Times, have agreed to the deal, despite concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses,” the Times article notes.

From a purely editorial perspective, both of these products look great. Sean Keach in Trusted Reviews positively gushes:

“It’s Apple’s attempt to combine the immediacy of web-based content with the aesthetics that come with magazine publishing…. Pages are rich with content, with various media on offer including text, images, video, audio, and animations.”

Feedback for FP is similarly praise-worthy, with Joe Lazauskas in Contently saying that “the hype videos for Instant Articles make the medium look absolutely gorgeous” and “potentially game-changing” for mobile reads.

So what’s the problem?

“The Times now receives 14 to 16 percent of its traffic from Facebook, which has doubled from a year ago,” notes Lazauskas. “If Instant Articles live up to their potential, that figure could skyrocket—eviscerating the Times’ leverage as it becomes more dependent on the social giant. Very quickly, the terms of engagement could change.”

“This isn’t just a Trojan horse; this is a Trojan horse draped in gold chains and being ridden by Beyoncé. Even if you can see the outline of the hatch on the wooden belly, it’s hard not to open the gates,” Lazauskas continues.

The same holds true for Apple and their News app, which is expected to replace the Newsstand with the release of iOS9. While there aren’t many who will mourn the Newsstand – it’s been a mess for publishers for a while now – this is not exactly the replacement we were hoping to see.

More pieces of the puzzle are quickly falling into place. Both Apple’s decision to allow ad blocking and FB’s recent patent application on user profiling make perfect sense now. And by controlling the news feed and keeping site traffic on their own systems, they win.

It’s unclear how brands can play along…possibly with native advertising or sponsored content through the big name publishers? We’ll have to see how this plays out.

But as long as FB swears they aren’t trying to like, you know, suck in and devour everything. We feel better now.