Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Competition in Instant Articles

There is news today of Google coming out with its version of ‘Instant Articles’, similar to the initiative launched by Facebook in May this year. Given that very high volume of news and articles is now consumed through Facebook on mobile devices, Facebook’s instant articles initiative provides improved user experience with reading news articles from partnering websites on a mobile device.  Articles on instant articles load much more quickly (ten times faster) compared to standard mobile web articles and are also more interactive with features such as zooming in on pictures within the article.  Facebook has right now partnered with nine news websites for the instant article initiative, including the New York Times, The Guardian, Buzz feed, among others.  This initiative has been rolled out to a small set of iOS users in the test phase and is expected to be rolled out to a larger population later this year.

The latest news is about Google coming out with a similar solution but keeping it open source.  This will mean that all publishers, from the big ones to small bloggers will have the ability to provide their content over Google’s new solution. The bigger difference seems to be in the level of ownership the publishers will have over their content. While working with Facebook, publishers are essentially handing over their content to the social network and it is up to Facebook to feature the content as it wants (with the implication that partnering websites will be featured more prominently than other publishers). With Google there is no Google-owned platform as such where publishers can host their content and Google will not control where and when the content can feature.

Another key difference between Facebook’s offering and Google’s proposed offering is revenue generation and sharing. Facebook shares 70% of ad revenue generated through ads featured on the instant articles with the publishers if the revenue is generated through Facebook selling the ads (publishers keep 100% of the revenue if they sell the ads). The news as of now does not indicate any revenue sharing arrangement for the Google solution, with the publishers having complete control and ownership over ads sold and revenue generated. This means however that the publishers get no support from Google in selling ads.

It will be interesting to see how the two different solutions are received by both publishers and end consumers. Facebook seems to have an advantage with its billion users who are already using the social network for consuming news. The revenue sharing arrangement Facebook offers also seems appealing to users. The solution is likely to be desirable for both publishers and end consumers, with publishers getting all the support they need to feature their content in the most consumable ways and consumers getting improved user experience.

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