Mark Zuckerberg has often described Facebook as a newspaper for its users. A place where the stories that are interesting to them — the births, the birthdays, the parties, the gossip — are laid out every morning. Now, however, this comparison is becoming less metaphorical, with Facebook reportedly in talks with several publications — including Buzzfeed, National Geographic, and The New York Times — to post their content directly within the site. This means that stories wouldn't just appear as links in the News Feed, but as content that can be share or liked without ever leaving Facebook.
ad-revenue from facebook-hosted content could be shared with publishers
According to a report by The New York Times, this new initiative could include revenue-sharing schemes. The usual advertisements that publishers place on their stories would be removed, and instead, a single ad in a custom format could be used for each article. Although the site has experimented with the model for brands (including a partnership with Verizon and the NFL, that put Verizon ads next to football clips), it would mark a change in the social network's relationship with publishers.
Media outlets are currently beholden to Facebook for a large proportion of their traffic. As more of the world's internet browsing shifts to smartphones and younger demographics continue to shun online news subscriptions, Facebook offers a lifeline of traffic and, more importantly, ad revenue. Facebook knows this, but it also feels it could improve on the model. For example, the NYT notes that links to external websites in the News Feed take eight seconds to load. Hosting content directly on Facebook would mean less loading times and, presumably, more traffic.
Facebook has already begun to encourage companies to publish directly on the site
However, many in the media industry are worried about ceding too much power to the social network. In January, Facebook published a blog post called "What the Shift to Video Means for Creators," addressing the new prevalence of auto-playing videos hosted on the sites. These videos get incredible amounts of views (more than a billion videos are watched every day) and are the most lucrative way for Facebook to sell ads. The blog post offered advice to "creators" about how to make videos uploaded to Facebook work best — they need to be "raw" and "compelling" — but some saw it as a message to publishers saying "your content is now ours."
As The Awl's John Hermann put it: "What the shift to Facebook video means is that Facebook is more interested in hosting the things media companies make than just spreading them, that it views links to outside pages as a problem to be solved." Publishers, he says, are just the "middlemen" in Facebook's opinion.
It's clear that Facebook's stopped seeing itself as just another online destination long ago. Projects like Internet.org for example, where Facebook subsidizes web access in developing countries, put the company in the position of being the only route to the internet for some users. The worry is that this dynamic will become more common if Facebook starts hosting publishers' original content as well.