April 3, 2019
Facebook wants to team with the news industry to create a tab in its app devoted to publishers’ content. In a conversation with Axel Springer SE chief executive Mathias Döpfner, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg explained the plan is in its early stages, and that he doesn’t want to build it without input from publishers. He compared the proposed news tab to the Watch tab that aggregates video from publishers, some of which do so exclusively for the platform. He also suggested that Facebook would pay publishers to ensure high-quality content.
Variety reports that Zuckerberg said, “there is a real opportunity to have better monetization for publishers than we have today at News Feed,” pointing to the company’s news subscriptions as evidence. He did admit, however, that subscription efforts haven’t produced meaningful results yet.
After Facebook de-emphasized news in early 2018, users experienced a 20 percent drop in news content. Döpfner has been a strong supporter of “recent European copyright changes, commonly known as ‘Article 13’, that have been criticized by many as being harmful to the Internet.” Although Google and YouTube chief executive Susan Wojcicki has pushed back, “Zuckerberg seemed open to embrace similar rules.” With regard to Article 13, Zuckerberg said: “That’s definitely something we should be thinking about here,” also noting that many details are still a work in progress.
Recode reports that Zuckerberg’s discussion with Döpfner focused on “the role quality journalism plays in building informed communities and the principles Facebook should use for building a news tab to surface more high-quality news.” One source said the news tab will be free to users rather than “a revenue play.” That combined with paying publishers for content is “a major pivot for Facebook.” Up until now, Facebook has offered at most a share of advertising revenue.
This project has been in development “for months,” with outgoing chief product officer Chris Cox and head of news partnerships Campbell Brown both supporting it. A dedicated news tab was also tested internally, and Facebook is expected to launch it by end of 2019. Unlike the dedicated News Feed launched in fall 2017, this news tab would not “quarantine all news into the new tab; instead, it would create a section for people who want to use Facebook as a dedicated newsreader.”
Zuckerberg said that “10, 15, maybe 20 percent of people” truly wish to delve deeper with regard to access to news. He isn’t sure, however, whether Facebook should do the curating or if the company should “hire a team of editors to help manage the product.”
Publishers will likely “be wary of Facebook’s newest proposal, since it comes after multiple strategy changes.” But, as Facebook and Google dominate online advertising, publishers may be “receptive to any kind of proposal that generates more revenue for them.” Zuckerberg’s announcement comes shortly after Apple launched its own news product, News+; The New York Times and Washington Post rejected that company’s offering, due to “Apple’s plan to keep 50 percent of the revenue and control most subscriber info.”