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May 25, 2017, 12:08 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Facebook will let publishers convert Instant Articles to Google AMP and Apple News formats

The move comes after a number of high-profile publishers have stepped back from Facebook’s distributed-content offering, preferring to direct Facebook mobile users to their websites.

Facebook said Thursday that it’s making it easier for publishers to export stories formatted for Instant Articles to Google’s AMP and Apple News as well. The announcement comes as Facebook continues to try to woo publishers to the Instant Articles format; many have cooled on it, citing business pressures and technical restraints.

Facebook’s software development kit now lets publishers export stories to the AMP format, Facebook partner engineering director Piyush Mangalick wrote in Facebook’s announcement. Support for Apple News will “be available in the coming weeks.”

“The updated SDK transforms the markup publishers use to create Instant Articles to generate the code needed to build these other formats, removing what we’ve heard can be a resource-heavy step in publishing on multiple platforms,” Mangalick wrote. “With an easy way to get from one markup format to another, publishers can then plug-and-play the markup in their content management systems or third party publishing tools.”

Lots of hype surrounded Facebook’s 2015 release of Instant Articles. The format launched with nine partners, including The New York Times and The Guardian. But the format seems to have fallen out of favor as outlets struggled to monetize stories there and also as Facebook itself began to prioritize video.

The Guardian and the Times are just two of the many publishers that have since pulled out of the Instant Articles program. The Times reportedly left Instant Articles last fall after it found that links to stories on the Times’ own site were better to monetize and made readers more likely to subscribe.

The Guardian pulled out of both Instant Articles and Apple News. A Guardian spokesperson told Digiday:

Our primary objective is to bring audiences to the trusted environment of the Guardian to support building deeper relationships with our readers, and growing membership and contributions to fund our world-class journalism.

The Verge reported last month that publishers’ business models were “an afterthought” for Facebook as it developed the Instant Articles format:

Though the format would have important financial consequences for the companies who used it, generating revenue for publishers was not a primary goal in its development. “The team is legitimately motivated by making great articles,” [Instant Articles designer Mike] Matas told me in 2015. One former employee familiar with the matter said media companies’ business models had initially been all but an afterthought. “The idea that these products could meaningfully impact the revenue of the news industry just didn’t really come up,” the former employee said. “I don’t know that anyone [at Facebook] took that piece all that seriously.”

Facebook now says it is taking news organizations’ concerns seriously. This update to the SDK came as a result of “meaningful conversations with publishers as part of the Facebook Journalism Project to better serve the needs of news publishers and readers on Facebook,” Mangalick wrote.

Facing scrutiny for its role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook launched the Facebook Journalism Project in January to try to improve its relationship with news outlets. In April, Facebook added two new features to Instant Articles — allowing readers to sign up for emails from publishers and also like their Facebook pages — that were inspired by feedback from the project.

News outlets still rely on Facebook. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Facebook is working with BuzzFeed, Vox, and other publishers to produce original video content that will include ad breaks.

For their part, Google and Apple are also looking for ways to leverage their news platforms. Google has made AMP stories show up more prominently in search results.

Apple, with its latest iteration of iOS, enabled push notifications in Apple News. And Apple News has hired New York magazine executive editor Lauren Kern for the newly created position of editor-in-chief, Politico reported Thursday.

POSTED     May 25, 2017, 12:08 p.m.
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