Over the past couple of months, Facebook executives have been in discussion with more than a dozen large, medium and small news publishers in India to put their content behind paywalls, increase loyalty of readers and viewers through subscriptions, and roll out tools for better monetisation through advertisements.
Two publishers told FactorDaily that discussions are ongoing, and that soon “there will be freemium” content available on Facebook. Freemium is a jargon for something that is a mix of free and premium (or paid).
Unlike Google, where almost everything is available on search, Facebook allows publishers to show its readers what it wants to show. But, at the backend Facebook has algorithms that helps it sift through tons of user data — geography, gender, interests, and more — to show what might be relevant. Add to that, Facebook is now using artificial intelligence to understand its users better.
Facebook wants to become the defacto destination for news consumption — a space that has for long been dominated by its largest and most powerful rival, Google (which recently redesigned Google News). Now Facebook wants to regulate what can loosely be called a marketplace of news, in an attempt to make money for its news partners and fight “fake news”.
India is no different, especially being its largest market with 241 million users. For context, India has about 450 million internet users, only second to China. With China beyond Facebook’s reach, it becomes win or die in India for the Mark Zuckerberg-led company. According to internal estimates of the company, 30% of the new users that the company hopes to add by 2020 will come from India.
Also, Indian had huge appetite for news consumption. According to Registrar of Newspapers of India (RNI), there are over 105,000 registered periodicals and newspapers. There are more than 400 news channels, too.
“We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook. As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs,” Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships, Facebook said in response to queries sent by FactorDaily.
Brown, a former news anchor was hired from CNN to help Facebook understand the relationship between news and its consumers better, and navigate the company through the complexities of fake and real news.
The Facebook Journalism Project focuses on collaborative development of news products, training and tools for journalists, and training and tools. Facebook is in discussions with over 2,600 publishers, it wrote in a blog on July 20.
One of the sources familiar with Facebook’s pitch in India said, “Facebook is briefing news publishers on its plans to build a tool to support subscriptions through Instant Articles.”
The social media giant has been closely working with publishers for several months to understand what they need, how to increase the user engagement, and develop this newly available function.
It has already been reported that in the subscription model will allow some reading and viewing, with the rest being behind a paywall. “Although discussions are still underway, the latest thinking is that the model will support meters greater than or equal to 10 free articles a month,” said a second source.
This source added that the metering and subscription will allow news publishers to “create consistent user experience”, give more control over locked versus unlocked articles, help authenticate existing subscribers, and will give publishers full control of the subscriber data.
The subscription model and how it will shape up is not yet deciphered, especially the payment mechanism. “The payment process is still being determined,” the first source said. Alongside, Whatsapp, which is fully owned by Facebook is working on launching an Unified Payment Interface (UPI) digital transaction feature to enable money transfer, payments and purchases.
By the end of the year, Facebook plans to launch a test with a small group of publishers. “If it works well for publishers and Facebook users, we will aim to expand (the option) in 2018.”