Social media giant Facebook recently unveiled Bulletin, a near-clone of the newsletter platform Substack. Despite its complicated relationship with journalists, Facebook thinks it can succeed by offering them better terms; whereas Substack takes a 10 percent cut of writers’ revenue, Bulletin will take nothing — at least for now. Best-selling authors Malcolm Gladwell and Mitch Albom will be among the first Bulletin writers. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the goal is to “support millions of people doing creative work.”
The Washington Post reports that Bulletin is “emblematic of a tactic that Facebook and other tech giants have often employed to quash competitors as they expand their business empires into new markets.” It adds that, “for decades, U.S. courts have taken a hands-off attitude toward what was once known as ‘predatory pricing,’ partly on the theory that lower prices are good for consumers regardless of the motivation.”
As a result, Big Tech has debuted free and below-cost products “as weapons in their quest to conquer new markets.” For example, “when Apple launches new subscription products, such as Apple Music and Apple TV Plus, often with free or deeply discounted introductory offers, the company sometimes publicly acknowledges that its goal isn’t to make money on them, at least in the short term,” but rather to enmesh customers more tightly into their software ecosystem.
Facebook could benefit from Bulletin by ads they will serve to readers on the platform and by boosting its payment platform Facebook Pay.
The FTC, at its first meeting with new chair Lina Khan, revoked a 2015 policy statement limiting its role in regulating “unfair methods of competition.” Open Markets Institute legal director Sandeep Vaheesan is pushing for the FTC to also end to predatory pricing, saying such rules “should apply not only to the largest Internet platforms but also to venture-backed insurgents seeking to disrupt established industries by running their businesses at a loss for a decade or more.”
Smaller rivals can often be supported by venture capitalists, such as Andreessen Horowitz’s funding of Substack.
Four antitrust experts interviewed by WaPo were “divided on whether a product such as Facebook’s Bulletin is rightly viewed through the lens of predatory pricing.”
“There are valid business reasons for companies to offer low introductory rates on new products, and price wars in a competitive market can benefit consumers,” the article notes. “In the long run, however, [newsletter writers] could still lose out if Facebook emerges as the dominant option, especially if they object to the social network’s privacy or data collection practices.”
The New York Times reports that Facebook has “spent months recruiting dozens of writers across different categories … paying them upfront to bring their readers to Facebook’s platform.” It explains that users of Bulletin “can share their writing over email to subscribers, using the vast reach of Facebook’s platform to build their personal followings.”
Substack and Twitter-owned Revue have “renewed interest” in newsletters and WaPo, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are all experimenting with them.
Bulletin articles and podcasts “will initially be available on individual creator publication pages, across the Facebook News Feed and within the News tab section of Facebook.” Writers will own their own content and email subscribers lists.