Facebook wants to own the internet — so should publishers
The Internet is mobile. Mobile is social media. Social media is Facebook. And only more so when it comes to News and Opinion — the voices of the world. Mobile phones are taking over as the internet device of the world. And social media is eating the internet.
This month has seen several reports on the digital media and internet devices and it’s not that they show something unexpected. But the brute force of it is massive and impressive. It’s exponential.
Not least for the current state of publishing and news media.
In 2021 there will be 9 billion mobile subscriptions, 7.7 billion mobile broadband subscriptions and 6.3 billion smartphone subscriptions.
Between 2015 and 2021, there will be a 12X growth in global smartphone traffic. Data traffic alone grew 60% between 2015 and 2016.
And on mobile phones social media is the de facto gateway to the internet. The open web only have a small fraction of our attention in the mobile era and it will be even smaller, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report.
Walled gardens and closed ecosystems are taking over the internet in the form of social media. Actually social networking is forecast to grow by 41 percent in data traffic annually over the coming six years. Video is the only thing outgrowing social with a 55 percent growth annually through 2021. And video is consumed through social media so the two will help accelerate each other even more.
One of the consequences of the great move to mobile and away from the open web is the decline in news consumption on independent publisher websites. News is less and less consumed at the source but in a distributed and fragmented way. When using a smartphone social media is the starting point for finding news. And people prefer to get their news on mobile devices. More than half (53%) of the global audience sampled for the Reuters report now say they use a smartphone to access news. In Sweden it’s even 69%, Korea 66% and Switzerland 61% according to The Reuters Institute Digital News Report.
So news is increasingly consumed through social media and people like it that way.
Over the last couple of years fewer and fewer people go to the homepages of websites, because more people go directly to articles and other news formats like status updates in native news feeds of social media and directly to video channels on YouTube. The publishers are increasingly loosing the role as the gatekeeper of news. Algorithms are taking over as the filtering editors and social media is taking over as the channels and actual environment where people engage in content.
And it is not going away.
People prefer to have their news filtered by an algorithm rather than a human being.
46 percent of people in the US and EU has social media as a source for news and in some countries the adoption rate is much faster. Of all the social media choices Facebook is by far the biggest with 1 billion daily active users on mobile. That makes Facebook the number one news source of the world. It distributes and promotes more content to more people than any other single outlet or platform on the internet and in the world. But it’s not only Facebook. It seems that any kind of social media is increasingly popular for news as publishers start to find ways of customizing for the different platforms.
In some countries social media is used for news by way more people than through traditional channels:
At the same time, or probably because of this, news is increasingly hard to turn into a business either from advertising or subscription so far. Except if you are a social media business — meaning Facebook.
Where is news being published?
A lot of publishers are doing well on social media. Also legacy institutions. At Trouble we are especially pleased with these:
CNN in Messenger because it’s fun.
Washington Post at Medium because they are making Medium better.
New York Times with Instant Articles on Facebook (only on mobile) because suddenly the experience of reading long form on mobile snappy.
National Geographic on Snapchat because it’s so much better to see a Haliaeetus leucocephalus than a rainbow selfie.
Wired on Instagram because you actually don’t need to read a magazine to get fascinated.
Vox on YouTube because 17 million people can’t be wrong. See for yourself:
What are you supposed to think of all this?
It is not a question of content. It is a question of product. So Facebook is beating everyone in the race to monetize content right now by building a massive closed ecosystem on top of the internet. An internet island. A premium product. And everyone else has to either move to this island and play by the rules or build their own island.
Spotify is doing it too. Netflix is. Amazon is. And Google and Apple are doing it.
News publishers will have to do this too.
If your business is with the end user you will have to make them pay sooner than later. Otherwise you might as well turn your efforts into a business-to-business game. And start making yourself indispensable with the big players. Facebook, YouTube and Medium are already offering to hand over money to publishers. But will publishers be able to do that without compromising their core mission?
For any publisher there are two fundamental needs to stay relevant and have impact: Reach and Independence. And this combination seems like a paradox.
As news media are trying to build strong independent products they can charge premium subscription and advertising for they also work increasingly hard stay top of mind with the audience on social media.
But you can’t do everything brilliant at the same time. That’s why the self image of the classical omnibus and general interest media must be reimagined. Publishers need to be just as focused on creating value for their audience as Facebook is.
They need to stay relevant as perceived from the outside instead of from the inside while guarding the unquestionable independence. That means a strong brand and product focus. And tough strategic discipline. Only then can they turn social media into their advantage instead of their sponger.
So just as Facebook is building its island on the internet both new and legacy publishers must work feverishly to create a controlled, very well curated and effective environment so the audience and advertisers will feel at home. And pay for that.
Everybody wants to own the internet. Or a part of it. Publishers should too.
If you feel it too, please share this piece with your network and hit ❤️. And if you have any great stories or thoughts on this subject — let us know in the comments.
Take a look at some of our other stories:
- Free Speech is Now a Brutal War on the Internet
- Six books that explain the world of today
- Missionaries will take out mercenaries in the digital age