What it’s Really Like for Publishers Using Facebook’s Instant Articles

facebook-instantarticlesAt look at how the social platform publishing app is working from the folks using it most.

Since spring of last year, a limited number of publishers have been allowed and encouraged to post their content directly onto Facebook using the new Instant Article app.

The idea, per Facebook, is to give brands a “faster, cleaner experience for mobile readers” and an opportunity to monetize their content via ads. (The downside, per many in the publishing industry, is that Facebook is now in a position to own the news by controlling the algorithms.)

“The catch,” writes Nathan McAlone in Business Insider, “was that publishers would have to conform to Facebook’s various specifications, including for advertising (though some of those rules relaxed in December). But for optimists, the theory was that any temporary advertising losses would be made up by a mix of increased shareability and reader goodwill.”

When the move was announced last year, many publishers balked at the idea of giving up so much control, but in a world where you go where your readers are, they signed on. Now, Facebook has announced it will make Instant Articles available to all in April, and is even putting out a WordPress app to make the process easy.

The big question for publishers large and small is …will it be worth it? Does it make sense to sacrifice possible traffic to their properties to facilitate fast load times?

McAlone spoke to some of the publishers currently using the platform, to get their inside opinion. The results are so far so good, for the most part.

Two companies that cater to the younger mobile audience, BuzzFeed and Vox, are pleased with the faster experience and are planning to ramp up the amount of content they run in IA, according to McAlone. Still, they note some problems.

“For example, Vox’s ‘cards’ format is currently not supported, which limits Vox.com, and part of BuzzFeed’s money machine is sponsored content, which also doesn’t really work for Instant Articles,” McAlone writes. The trade-offs may be worth it as both companies are seeing an increase in proliferation with their IA content compared to self-posted.

The big question many are asking is “can publishers make money on Instant Articles?” It appears so, with Gawker’s Nick Denton saying Facebook is “well-positioned to facilitate ads” thanks to its vast amount of user data. Denton was an early detractor of the idea, calling it “abject surrender” according to McAlone, but apparently is changing his tune.

According to Jack Marshall in The Wall Street Journal, recent amendments to the advertising program mean it’s getting easier for publishers to make money on the platform. It’s too early to tell if the model will work or if more traditional news outlets will find other ways to engage.