Shocker: Facebook is Making Money on Your Content…and You’re Not

facebook-logo-explained“Note to magazine-media executives: Social media clearly is a fabulously innovative 21st Century town square, but it’s not altruistic.” – Tony Silber, Folio: 

When Facebook announced yet another change to their publisher policies this month, the indignation was palpable, as it usually is when this happens. Brands that play by the rules are constantly surfing up against new restrictions as Facebook tweaks its algorithms or cracks down on clickbait.

The indignation is a bit misplaced, according to Tony Silber in Folio:.

“I get that a mind-bogglingly large number of people use those platforms. I get that they’ve changed media-engagement behavior forever,” Silber writes. “What I don’t get is why media companies have ceded their audiences, and offered their content for free, to social networks—all of which are individual companies, in business to generate a profit, each of which has its own zero-sum business objectives.”

We’ve been saying this since Instant Articles launched, that publishers are taking a terrible risk letting a distribution platform control their content.  You gotta hand it to Facebook; publishers jumped on board with a do-or-die attitude.

At the time, we sided with those calling this the path to suckerdom, and many of the publishers who went all in are now feeding on Facebook’s scraps.

As the fallout is realized, no one should act surprised that Facebook is in it for keeps.

“Note to magazine-media executives: Social media clearly is a fabulously innovative 21st Century town square, but it’s not altruistic,” Silber continues.” It doesn’t exist as a grand platform for your monetization and audience-engagement experiments. It exists to make money for its owners, and that money is coming out of your revenue and from your content.”

“Look at it another way: You hire the best talent in the world, pay that talent a lot of money to generate great content, and then give it to another company, free. You enhance the other company’s audience experience, and you know that the other company is selling massive amounts of advertising against your content, while you’re hoping to monetize the traffic from clickthroughs. What’s more, in doing this, you’re also making yourself too dependent on a single source of traffic, vulnerable to that company’s whims. Terrific.”

Silber makes another a valid point: Every other media – TV, radio, print, even YouTube, pays for content through syndication or royalties. Except digital.

Can the industry turn around this Titanic? Silber has an idea on that:

“It’s time for magazine media to rethink why it’s effectively giving away its content to giant social networks that are getting fabulously rich because of that free content. It’s time for magazine-media companies to start asking for appropriate compensation from social-media companies for the use of their content. Perhaps there’s a valuable role for the industry associations — Connectiv and MPA — to start gathering ideas, advocating, and engaging individual stakeholders for the good of all.”

It’s a good place to start.