Selected reactions to the Facebook deal with Publishers

Facebook says it wants to be a good partner to news organizations. It began discussing its idea with around 20 publishers last August and tried to address the concerns they raised.
“We’re starting with something that we think is going to work for some publishers for some articles and for some business models,” Mr. Cox said. “We’re not trying to go, like, suck in and devour everything.”

Comment by Brian from Sovevos:

The late, great, David Carr wrote in this august organ back in October last year:

“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.”

I think it’s clear the big, friendly dog is hungry.

[From: NYT, Facebook Offers Life Raft, but Publishers Are Wary Oct 26, 2014]

“The deal raises all sorts of knotty questions for the Times. How many articles will Facebook get to publish per day? What is the revenue sharing breakdown? How does the Times protect the independence of its journalism, say, if the paper runs a hard-hitting investigation on Facebook? And what happens when the Times allows Facebook to insert itself between its journalism and its readers?
Not surprisingly, the prospect of a Facebook partnership is generating palpable anxiety inside the Times newsroom, with some Times journalists casting it as an end-of-the-Times-as-we-know-it inflection point. When rumors of a deal surfaced last October, the Times’ late media columnist David Carr articulated this view, writing, ‘The wholesale transfer of content sends a cold, dark chill down the collective spine of publishers, both traditional and digital insurgents alike.’”
But the news firms will also embark upon this experiment with some trepidation. They know how powerful a presence Facebook already is in news — the recent Pew report on the US media found that nearly half of Americans who used the internet had got news about politics and government from the social network over the previous week.
But these days media groups fear the mechanics behind Facebook’s newsfeed in the same way that small businesses have nightmares about tweaks in the Google search algorithm. They have watched their traffic from the social network ebb and flow with every change — one day your stories can be popping up all over everybody’s timelines, the next they have disappeared without trace.
So the Instant Articles experimenters are treading carefully. An executive at one media organisation said it was difficult to resist getting involved in anything that would put your content on the phones of the social network’s users — “Facebook is killing it on mobile,” he said. But he was extremely cautious about handing over distribution to a third party and being subject to its decisions on how to prioritise content.
“The big risk is that Facebook plunders the relationship that news companies have — or should have — with their readers, and then destroys their business model almost accidentally, while it is in pursuit of other things. That’s the kind of thing that concerns Facebook-watchers like veteran journalist Dan Gillmor:
Facebook “instant articles” will be good for a few media orgs in the short run. But journalism will be far worse off as a whole. — Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) May 13, 2015
Thompson and others are right when they say that news companies don’t really have any choice but to play ball with Facebook, which is why this is actually much worse than the classic Faustian bargain. As a result of their own incompetence and/or inflexibility, combined with the shifting sands of the digital-media market, they have lost their grip on the audience that both they and advertisers are trying to reach.”
To some, it’s an obvious win-win. The news organizations are being allowed to fish where the fish are. There are 1.25 billion of those proverbial fish — users of Facebook’s mobile services — according to the company. No news publisher can claim to have an audience that big.
To many others, however, Facebook is a “frenemy” to the news business, competing for attention and ad dollars. The Times’ story about the partnerships on Wednesday referred to industry fear of Facebook’s “growing power” and to “concerns that their participation could eventually undermine their own businesses.”
“The concern? That Facebook’s deal is simply too good to be true and the company will eventually change the terms once publishers get hooked on the feature. Facebook is already a force behind trending media, what happens when it becomes when it has power over publishing?”
I have seen the future and it Zux! Here’s a useful Vox piece on why we shouldn’t panic about Facebook’s new “Instant Articles” feature. The piece is useful because it is so unconvincing. I wasn’t panicked before. Basically the Vox argument is:
a) Facebook dominates the web. (There’s a stunning chart demonstrating why the profitablity of practically every web site now hinges on Facebook.)
b) Facebook’s mysterious algorithm gives them the power to favor or disfavor specific publications or articles;
c) “Instant articles” will give them even more power to favor or disfavor specific publications, as more and more people read the articles that Facebook agrees to host on its servers;
d) So, hey, don’t worry!
This will make news firms less vulnerable to the whims of any one social network’s algorithms. However, the gravest risk to publishers is that social networks continue to transform themselves into a form of modern-day newspaper, curating content, engaging users and selling their attention to advertisers.
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