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Aug. 8, 2019, 5:53 p.m.
Audience & Social

Facebook is reportedly interested in licensing publishers’ content for its News tab this fall

And they totally won’t pivot again.

The game of “follow Facebook’s money trail” is never a fun one — unless you’re receiving the money, until you’ve been burned by it. (See Facebook Live, Facebook Watch, etc. etc. etc.)

Now, per the Wall Street Journal, Facebook is reportedly in discussions with publishers like The New York Times, ABC News, Dow Jones, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg to receive a nice licensing fee of $3 million (unclear if that’s per story, publisher, or in total) from Facebook licensing their content in the News tab, which Mark Zuckerberg had floated in an orchestrated conversation with Axel Springer’s CEO Mathias Döpfner earlier this year. This idea of paying for high-quality news and information came up, perhaps not coincidentally, the week after Apple had released its Apple News+ premium glossy product:

Döpfner — who has been an outspoken European proponent of big platforms paying for their use of publishers’ content — responded that the most important thing about such a tab would be for it to have a “fair model,” with publishers receiving direct access to consumers and/or receiving a fair revenue share. A licensing fee seems “simple and obvious,” he said, adding that Facebook “would be perceived as a really helpful player” if it were to start paying publishers fees for news articles read via the tab.

“That’s definitely something we should be thinking about here, because the relationship between us and the publishers is different in a surface where we’re showing the content on the basis of its being high-quality, trustworthy content, rather than, ‘OK, you followed some publication and now you’re going to get the stream of the things that they publish,’” Zuckerberg said. A licensing fee “makes a lot of sense.”

The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story Thursday afternoon, reports that “representatives from Facebook have told news executives they would be willing to pay as much as $3 million a year to license entire stories, headlines and previews of articles from news outlets.” Publishers could pick between putting the stories directly on Facebook’s tab or putting previews in that go back to the original site. (Facebook’s Campbell Brown has been quoted as saying “we are not interested in talking to you about your traffic and referrals any more. That is the old world and there is no going back,” which Facebook has denied she said. She also told me in January that “relying on traffic entirely from News Feed for your whole business model is not the approach that any smart publisher should take. We can be part of the solution but we cannot be the entire solution for a publisher’s business.”) A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to me that they are working on a news tab to launch this fall but said it was too early in the process to comment further.

These arrangements would last for three years, but so far it’s unclear if any publishers have signed on yet. (The Journal’s sources also said “A person close to Facebook said it plans to gather feedback from news organizations to help improve the news tab,” so.)

The Apple News+ announcement was assailed for its wildly high 50 percent revenue split with publishers, who need revenue a lot more than Apple does. No word in the Journal article or elsewhere on how much the revenue split would be with Facebook if this does indeed happen.

There are still some questions from that April Zuckerberg conversation that remain unanswered, as my colleague Laura Hazard Owen explained then:

If Facebook is saying wants to include “high-quality and trustworthy” information, it’s going to need to do some editorializing and picking and choosing, something that in the past it has been loath to do (R.I.P. Trending Topics). The hiring of human editors as full-time Facebook employees would be a first for the company. And when Zuckerberg differentiates between sources that are “broadly trusted across society, or in your network specifically,” well, what does that end up looking like in the tab of a user who believes The New York Times and Washington Post are fake news? We’ll see.

POSTED     Aug. 8, 2019, 5:53 p.m.
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