Facebook’s Instant Articles: Better for people, better for publishers?

Because content is so quick to load on the IA platform, Mitchell explained, people are 70 per cent less likely to abandon the article than mobile web articles – and IAs get 30 per cent more shares than mobile web articles, too. “We want to create a great publishing platform that publishers want to use, and are excited to use,” he added.

Working closely with publishers, Facebook has found that the clear message from them is “show me the money”. It’s important, of course, that IAs are valuable for businesses, and to this end, publishers keep 100 per cent of the ad revenue from IAs, and have recently been permitted increased ad density (more ads per word count).

“The journey is one per cent finished,” said Mitchell to end his introduction. “We have a long road ahead of us at Facebook, but I’m proud of what we’ve achieved in the past year.”


Johan Hufnagel: We’re a very small company at Libération; for many years we were print-oriented, but now we want to try digital. For us, it’s amazing to work with Facebook’s IA platform – people spend longer reading the IAs than ordinary mobile articles.

Tony Danker: We’ve always believed at the Guardian that you have to follow the user. That’s why we used very quickly from print to website, from desktop to mobile in recent years. Now, we’re asking how we make the mobile web a great place for content and monetisation, while combatting ad-blocking? Facebook and Google (with AMP) have been able to take lions’ steps in solving the problems of the mobile web in this way.

Our mission at the Guardian is to promote our content; we recognise that our users will consume our content where they want, not where we want them to be. Traffic for content was the old trade-off, but I always felt this was unfair – I felt there should be more of a value exchange, with more content engagement and brand awareness. We’re not done yet, but we wanted our users’ experience of Facebook IAs to be almost as smooth and as pleasant as reading the same article on the Guardian mobile page.

Andy Mitchell: Do either of you feel that IA gives you competitive advantage?

Johan Hufnagel: We had to ask whether we would lose money by investing in Facebook IAs; we didn’t want to think we were bigger than Facebook. For many years, the question was: can we make money with the web? Can we make money with the free internet? We didn’t think of the users enough. So what’s great with IA is that for first time, we’re putting the users first, and the money we hope will follow. 

Tony Danker: Facebook IA is a place where you can reach different audiences, eg. younger people. People’s intolerance for slow-loading content makes mobile content consumption like this a good trend to follow. We’re always asking: are we building new readers? What onward journeys work? 

Andy Mitchell: Was speed an issue? Internet speeds are slower in emerging markets.

Tony Danker: We didn’t just look at the western world; it was a material part of our calculation to consider emerging markets. 

Andy Mitchell: What would be the one thing you’d change about Facebook IA?

Johan Hufnagel: the reader experience is so amazing, but I’d like to see new formats. 

Tony Danker: The whole value of having our content on Facebook IA, Snapchat, Apple News, etc. is that it needs to be a very native experience. Data parity and user journey parity are essential. I think Facebook product managers should try to understand publishers’ objectives at a higher level and try to fuse this with a native Facebook user experience. 

Andy Mitchell: We try to remove the friction from creating a native, organic experience for users on Facebook IA. So looking three to five years (or even three months!) ahead, what’s next?

Johan Hufnagel: I think the main goal for us is to earn more money from Facebook. Facebook is getting bigger and bigger; it started as a test for us to see if we could earn money from it, and within a couple of months we realised this was a good move – but we need to continue to make more money.

Tony Danker: Facebook has now reached a stage where it gets to move markets. That becomes the new reality for publishers too; this is the power of huge platforms. There’s real emphasis on the three-way partnership between Facebook, the user and the partner.

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