Facebook has announced it will be testing news subscription models over the next several weeks for Instant Articles across the US and Europe, but only on Android devices. In July, news broke that Facebook Instant Articles would soon allow paywalled content, and in August, Facebook confirmed it would be adding subscriptions for Instant Articles.
Publishers participating in the test include Bild, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Hearst-owned properties The Houston Chronicle and The San Francisco Chronicle, La Repubblica, Le Parisien, Spiegel, The Telegraph, Tronc (The Baltimore Sun, The Los Angeles Times, and The San Diego Union-Tribune), and The Washington Post.
Facebook says they will be comparing two different models: one that allows for 10 free articles before a subscription is needed to see more content, and a “freemium” version that allows publishers to dictate which articles are free and which live behind the paywall. When someone decides to subscribe, Facebook says the publisher will handle the transaction and keep 100 percent of the revenue.
Recode reports that Facebook is only testing Instant Articles on Android because Apple has rules about subscriptions within apps that call for the company to keep up to 30 percent of money that is generated from in-app sales. Although purchasing a subscription will happen outside of Instant Articles, Apple still considers it in-app as Facebook acts as the catalyst for the transaction.
When Instant Articles was introduced in 2015, publishers were wary as the format provided less revenue (fewer ads, keeps readers on Facebook instead of directing to the publisher’s site, etc.). But, many were lured to the format for reasons like faster load times and the assumption that they would get so much distribution in Facebook’s News Feed that volume would make up the difference.
Since then, a multitude of issues have prevented Instant Articles from taking off. Facebook itself made algorithm decisions that deprioritized Instant Articles, and the introduction of features like a video tab on its app further tamped Instant Articles’ reach. Despite efforts on Facebook’s part to appease publishers amid these changes — like allowing for more display ads and sponsored posts for publishers like The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune — it wasn’t enough, and they abandoned the platform.