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Facebook, Publishers Nearing Faustian Bargain?

With talk of deal, are magazines and newspapers becoming “Facebook publishers”?

The late, great David Carr might have said it best in October of 2014: “For publishers, Facebook is a bit like that big dog galloping toward you in the park. More often than not, it’s hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you.” But does this week’s news of The New York Times, National Geographic, and BuzzFeed potentially signing on as Facebook publishers mean they’re puppy chow or smart players with friends in high places?

Time will tell, but for now, the industry is just trying to digest the reports.

It’s no secret that Facebook has prioritized native video within its newsfeed over outside links to the likes of YouTube and has convinced many brands – including publishers – to shift their efforts over to the social platform if they want to develop audience.

Now, Zuck and company are after all content, putting a plan in place to host articles, lists, infographics, and more inline.

From Facebook’s perspective, the angle is clear: Catch up to Google when it comes to digital advertising. Getting publishers to sign on promises a direct line on revenue … not to mention a stranglehold on audience, as readers – especially mobile readers – won’t have to click away to consume content.

But are publishers signing away their agency – and, more to the point, their brand – when they sign on as Facebook publishers? Furthermore, is Facebook a bully pitting publishers against each other? Are they acting out of fear?

Slate Senior Technology Writer Will Oremus says yes. And other observers agree:

“At Fusion, (Slate contributor) Felix Salmon warns that news sites risk sacrificing their brands – and, in the process, their incentives for accuracy and editorial judgment – by handing Facebook control of their distribution. John Battelle holds up the rise and fall of Zynga as a warning to publishers who would build their business around Facebook. The Times’ own Mat Yurow has compared the news industry’s position today to that of the record industry in 2003. That’s when Steve Jobs approached the major labels about selling their music through Apple’s own platform. ‘This is the publishing industry’s iTunes moment,’ Yurow wrote. ‘And we’re blowing it.’ (Yurow’s views, he noted, do not reflect those of his employer.)

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“It’s easy to see why BuzzFeed would go along with this. Unlike most news sites, BuzzFeed doesn’t make money by running ads alongside its stories but by creating custom ads that are essentially stories in their own right. Its strategy has always been to distribute these ads on platforms other than its own website.”

At Mequoda, this kind of deal isn’t what we have in mind when it comes to multiplatform publishing, primarily because there are many more revenue streams than just advertising.

Facebook’s future depends on publishers as much as publishers’ futures depend on Facebook – otherwise, Facebook would be creating its own content. Publishers like the Guardian get this principle, forming real partnerships in the face of potential monopolies.

Strengthen your own brand within your own niche. If you need help with this, contact us!

What are your thoughts on the approaching era of Facebook publishers? Would you consider handing over your content part and parcel to the social media giant? 

To read more about the rumored deal between Facebook, publishers, visit Slate.

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