Andreas Pfeiffer, of The Pfeiffer Report, believes that publishers in 2016 cannot afford to ignore some of these platforms.
Pfeiffer, who spoke to FIPP about distributed content, said platforms like Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles and Snapchat Discover are very different from each other, and while they may be great for exposure and engagement, they’re not to be approached lightly.
Distributed content, Pfeiffer said, is content that is not hosted on a publisher’s website, but on a social platform or news aggregator. And each is different from the next, with different requirements, stringent restrictions on ads, programmatic, partnerships, content format, and company motivations, he added.
Facebook Instant Articles, for example, has the aim of keeping individuals on the social platform. Facebook controls the pipes. Pfeiffer describes it as a walled garden. “They’re making pages load very fast; it’s easily done with RSS feeds and specialised HTML,” Pfeiffer said. “But, you can’t drive traffic back to your site, so as a publisher, you have no control. You have no idea where your articles are going to end up, no idea how they’re going to use it.”
Publishers who decide to user Instant Articles to distribute their content trade exposure to a potential audience of one billion users for website traffic, he said.
“Who can afford not to be on Facebook?” Pfeiffer asked. “How do you say ‘no’ to a billion users?”
Snapchat Discover launched in 2015, and presents selected content by selected publishers in a highly-visual format that appeals to Millennials. Publishers want to be on Snapchat, he said, because content is linkable, snackable and easy to consume and it drives a huge amount of traffic. Snapchat as a company, however, is ambitious and wants to become a media company, Pfeiffer says. “They want to become bigger than Facebook.”
But, to distribute content on Snapchat, publishers must be part of the chosen few.
“They choose,” Pfeiffer said. “It’s a cherry-picked list. They say who is allowed on the list and they have very stringent conditions about what you’re allowed to do and what you’re not allowed to do.”
Google AMP is a distributed content platform with a difference. It launched in spring 2016, and offers publishers a framework to speed up the mobile display of web pages. This allows publishers to remain in control of their content and the context in which it appears, however, Google AMP restricts ads and limits programmatic, according to Pfeiffer’sWAN-IFRA report on Distributed Content.
Pfeiffer said Google AMP is taking off like crazy. In April, Richard Gingras, head of news at Google, told Digital Media Europe 2016 in Vienna that there were over 110 million AMP files from over 500,000 publishers, after only a few months in operation.
When these distributed content platforms launched, they all launched with select partners. Snapchat partnered with National Geographic, Fusion and The Wall Street Journal, People, CNN, The Daily Mail, and Cosmopolitan, among others. Facebook Instant Articles partnered with The New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Atlantic, The Guardian, BBC, Spiegel and Bild, among others. Google AMP partnered with The New York Daily News, The New York Times, Vox and Buzzfeed, among many others, when it rolled out it’s accelerated carousel pages.
A number of publishers went all in, developing strategies and content for the new platforms. However, Pfeiffer said he’s spoken with executives and technology managers, who say distributed content is great for exposure and engagement. At German newspaper Die Welt, for example, Pfeiffer said there was a 60 per cent increase in the newspaper’s reach since adopting the Instant Articles platform, but it didn’t drive revenue.
Distributed content is “a necessary evil for building engagement,” he said.
“People notice content on Instant Articles, they spend more time reading, and all of that is positive, but the revenue equation is not there,” Pfeiffer said.
Distributed content platforms don’t drive revenue, according to Pfeiffer. At least not yet. “In theory, you can place your own ads on some platforms which means you can keep all of the revenue, but certain platforms have restrictions,” he said. For example, Facebook’s Instant Articles don’t allow for paywalls, while Google AMP allows for paywalls and subscription models.
“What are you going to do?” Pfeiffer asks. “You can’t not be there.”
He advises publishers to experiment with the platforms, to see what they can and cannot do.
“Choose wisely,” he said. “There are only two things that are open to everybody and which everybody can do, and that’s Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP… everybody is experimenting to see whether there’s a point in doing it.”
Indeed, in a year where technology and publishing are volatile, six months is a long time when the pace of change is rapid. In six months, who knows how distributed platforms may change online distribution. “It’s like Stacy-Marie Ishmael at Buzzfeed said, ‘no matter how fast you move, it is not fast enough’,” Pfeiffer quoted.