Facebook Is Getting Into the News Business
Facebook has a war on its hands, and Mark Zuckerberg knows it. Practically overnight, Google+ has gone from a rumor to a thriving community with over 10 million members. With some 700 million members of its own, Facebook is thinking less and less about how to grow that number and more about how to get current users to live more of their lives within its virtual walls. One answer it has come up with: asking a select number of news outlets to produce “Facebook editions” — basically, app versions of themselves that can be read and consumed right there on Facebook.
About a dozen news outlets are currently participating, including CNN, the Washington Post and The Daily, according to sources familiar with the project. The first Facebook editions are expected to arrive later this year, perhaps in September. The New York Times was also asked to participate, according to one source, but opted to hold back for now, apparently because of reservations over how having a Facebook edition might fit into its new paywall strategy. (It’s for similar reasons that the Times isn’t even giving all of its content to the digital news aggregation service Ongo even though it’s a financial partner in the startup.)
I don’t know any details of the financial arrangements involved, but if it’s similar to the deals Facebook is making with TV and movie studios and networks, the social network is likely asking for a cut of revenues generated by subscription and advertising sales generated by the app editions. (Mostly recently, Facebook made it possible for users to rent episodes of the BBC’s series “Doctor Who.”) I’ve contacted Facebook and the four news companies mentioned above but have yet to receive any comment. Update: A Facebook spokeswoman says, “We have nothing new to announce. The top media sites around the world are integrated with Facebook and we’re constantly talking to our partners about ways to improve these integrations.”
I also understand that Google is working on, or at least has recently explored, a similar idea. An executive from a leading online news company was summoned to a meeting at the search giant’s Mountain View, Calif., headquarters last fall for partnership talks. “They gave us a presentation on how Google’s going to be rethinking the news,” says the executive. The plan called for partnering with “selected publishers that would offer up the choicest stories they were working on.”
This executive’s company demurred: “We looked at it as Google creating this powerful news portal that was going to compete with us.” (Again, no comment yet from Google.)
Now that Facebook is known to be at work on a parallel initiative, however, it could change the dynamic for publishers, who may find playing one against the other gives them leverage they lacked until now.
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