Dehydrated, instant articles – now all your readers belong to Zuck

Facebook has inked news-hosting deals with nine media outfits, including the BBC and Buzzfeed, in a move to slurp ad revenue from publishers and keep netizens locked into its site for even longer.

The Mark Zuckerberg-run company said that its free content ad network would initially offer Apple iOS users of the Facebook app a function dubbed Instant Articles.

Menlo Park claimed that it would "give publishers control over their stories, brand experience and monetisation opportunities." Which floats the sneaky notion that they don't currently have command of their own business within Facebook's silo.

According to the New York Times, which was one of the publishers to have struck an agreement with Facebook, news outlets can either sell and embed ads in the articles and pocket all the revenue, or allow Zuck's firm to peddle ads, thereby gifting Facebook with 30 per cent of the sales.

Facebook is keen to be seen as an anodyne or even dumb platform by promising not to interfere with publishers directly. But it is also attempting to bring those media players inside its own ad network, which will undoubtedly make many publishers squirm.

As a trade-off, news organisations will be able to lift data about their readers from analytical tools provided by Facebook.

It's a nervous time for the publishing industry, and Facebook – like its ad rival Google – is preying on this anxiety. The NYT, for example, said that "Facebook represents from 14 to 16 per cent of its web traffic".

The newspaper added that the figure had doubled in recent months, which presumably happened following Facebook's algorithm tweak to push "quality news" to the top of the pile.

Facebook chief product chief Chris Cox said in a canned statement:

Fundamentally, this is a tool that enables publishers to provide a better experience for their readers on Facebook.

Instant Articles lets them deliver fast, interactive articles while maintaining control of their content and business models.

He added, when quizzed by the NYT: "We’re not trying to go, like, suck in and devour everything."

So that's alright, then. ®

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