With Facebook’s focus on video, publishers hear less about Instant Articles

Facebook’s obsession with figuring out how to make money from video has some publishers wondering what’s happening with its other recent big initiative, Facebook Instant Articles. But Facebook is about to test some new features to address publisher objections with Instant Articles.

Since Facebook launched the fast-loading mobile articles feature in 2015, it’s been a lightning rod. Publishers have complained that it’s been better for Facebook than it has for them because it helps Facebook keep users on its platform, but the feature didn’t monetize well for publishers.

Since then, a number of prominent publishers including The New York Times and The Guardian have stopped using the feature or pulled back on its use. Several of those publishers said Facebook hasn’t made much of an attempt to get them back.

Facebook denies Instant Articles is no longer a priority. It points out that it’s tried to make the feature more attractive for publishers by adding more ad opportunities and newsletter sign-ups to Instant Articles. For the past several months, it’s focused on helping subscription-driven publishers get new subscribers there; a test is expected to start soon.

“Instant Articles is working and delivering value to publishers in three ways: audience loyalty, revenue, and insights,” Alex Hardiman, Facebook’s head of news product, said in a statement. “We recently expanded Call-to-Action tests and monetization improvements that are now available to all publishers, and launched a traffic lift tool to provide transparency around performance. We’ve also been focused on an upcoming test to support subscriptions in Instant Articles. We’re encouraged by the feedback we’ve received from publishers using these features, and will continue to collaborate to build products that work for their businesses.”

Facebook is soon planning to test more prompts to encourage readers to click through to additional articles from the publisher. It’s also going to experiment with ways to make publishers’ brands more visible on Instant Articles, addressing publishers’ concerns about people reading their articles on Facebook without realizing the source of the articles.

Facebook also said the number of publishers using Instant Articles grew 25 percent this year to more than 10,000, including Fox News, which just rejoined Instant Articles after having withdrawn; and Politico, which started using it for the first time. The platform also said that this year, revenue per 1,000 pageviews that publishers see from Facebook Audience Network in Instant Articles has increased by over 50 percent.

Dan Check, vice chairman of The Slate Group, has praised the improvement after being an outspoken critic of Instant Articles monetization. “Facebook has made boosting Instant Articles RPMs a real priority,” he said. “We’ve seen the rates go up and the ad density go up.”

Instant Articles has matured at this point, though, and there’s less to talk about. Meanwhile, publishers, especially those that don’t stand to benefit from subscription sales, said Facebook’s attention, like theirs, is concentrated on video these days. “Every second call I have is with Facebook video,” one publishing exec said.

“They’re trying to placate their brands that are withholding their content from the feed,” said another, LittleThings founder Joe Speiser. “For the most part, we’ve been mainly talking about mid-roll and live and Facebook Watch. IA just hasn’t been at the top of the list of what we’ve been reviewing with them.”