After leaving Facebook Instant Articles a year ago since the monetization wasn’t great, Bauer Xcel Media returned to the platform and has found a fringe benefit: IA is really good at driving newsletter subscriptions.
Since May, Bauer Xcel Media, the U.S. digital offshoot of European magazine publisher Bauer Media, has published about 20 percent of its content on IA, said Mike Shaughnessy, vp of revenue at Bauer Xcel Media. The publisher found that IA users are 50 times more likely to sign up for newsletters than users who visit its own properties. Bauer Xcel declined to provide raw numbers.
An IA user is more likely to subscribe to newsletters because Facebook already has their email address, so sign-ups take just one click, Shaughnessy said. Meanwhile, on Bauer Xcel’s own websites, where it does not already know users’ email addresses, users have to type in their email addresses to sign up. Newsletter subscribers obtained through IA also have a gross open rate of about 30 percent, which is about 10 percentage points higher than the open rate from subscribers who opt in from Bauer Xcel’s own properties, according to the publisher. Shaughnessy declined to speculate why IA users have higher open rates.
Like several other publishers, Bauer Xcel stopped posting through IA last year because it was difficult to monetize users on the platform. But Bauer Xcel came back to IA in May because in April, Facebook launched call-to-action units in IA that let publishers serve messages in their IA stories inviting people to sign up for a newsletter or like their Facebook pages.
Facebook declined interview requests, but a spokesperson said in an emailed statement that the call-to-action units have driven more than 2 million email sign-ups in 2017. Despite some publishers’ disappointment with IA’s call-to-action units, Bauer Xcel has been pleased with how the units help it make direct connections to users.
“Although we can still monetize our users better in our mobile web experience, we’ve noticed that with [IA’s call-to-action buttons] there’s a large opportunity to build an email channel of a very engaged and interested audience,” Shaughnessy said.
Since publishers have had trouble monetizing their content on IA, some of them have placed more resources in IA competitors Google AMP and Apple News. Bauer Xcel has regularly posted to AMP for over a year, and by the end of the quarter, it will start using Apple News. About 85 percent of Bauer Xcel’s 21 million monthly visitors come from mobile, according to comScore. With a high reliance on mobile, speed is critical for Bauer Xcel, which gives it incentive to adopt distributed platforms’ fast-loading features.
While Bauer Xcel ultimately came back to IA, pullouts from premium publishers like the Guardian and The New York Times have plagued the platform. The call-to-action buttons are part of a larger effort to charm frustrated publishers. In January, Facebook launched the Facebook Journalism Project, which has involved working with publishers to understand what they want to get from the app. The social giant also plans to test paid subscriptions with publications by the end of the year, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Although Bauer Xcel is pleased with the direct connections it is making through IA, it would still like to see improved data reporting, a greater ability to link out to its own properties and more flexibility in how IA content can be designed.
“Overall, our experience recently has been very positive, and we can stick with that,” Shaughnessy said. “But we also are looking for improvements.”