Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has announced a new plan to let publishers sell subscriptions on its platform. At an industry event this week, Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook, revealed that the social network is planning to let publishers set up paywalls on the content they publish using Instant Articles. Brown said, “We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook.”
Facebook’s Instant Articles already aggregates news content from more than 10,000 publishers worldwide. Instant Articles load quickly by keeping readers inside the social network instead of directing them to publishers’ sites. Roughly 2 billion people go to Facebook for news every month.
Many of the details of the plan still have to be worked out, including payment details. Publishers would control the relationship with the reader, and the data that comes with it. Publishers will also be able to serve ads behind the Instant Articles paywall. Facebook plans to roll out tests of the subscription service with certain publishers near the end of this year, with the goal of expanding the service in 2018.
Publishers would have offer at least 10 articles free to each reader before hitting a paywall. If the readers declined to subscribe to the news platform after they reached the threshold, they would be locked out of viewing additional stories for the remainder of the month. The New York Times and The Washington Post already employ similar limited paywalls on their websites.
The move is renewing some of its media partners’ optimism about their future. The news industry is struggling to remain solvent in the face of free distribution of its information through the internet. Online distribution has also made it more difficult to distinguish between legitimate news and fake news.
Brown said in a previous interview that Facebook was “committed to helping quality journalism thrive.” Facebook recently introduced new tools for publishers to compare how well their content performs on Instant Articles and on the mobile web. According to Facebook, Instant Articles generate 20 percent to 50 percent more traffic than articles that drive readers to the mobile web.
Publishers have been concerned about the amount of money they make from their content on social media sites. The ads that Facebook delivered to Instant Articles often didn’t match the revenue that publishers could get on their own sites. Some publishers pulled back from the program this year because it stopped making sense monetarily. This new initiative may reverse that trend.