Last week Facebook announced that it has (finally) launched Instant Articles to Android users. Instant Articles was initially launched as a test on the iPhone in May, with a full launch to iPhone users in October.
According to the announcement, more than 350 publishers globally utilize Instant Articles as a platform for sharing their stories with readers, including more than 100 who publish daily.
Using Instant Articles, publishers can deliver a faster, more immersive reading experience to hundreds of millions of people daily across Facebook’s iPhone and Android apps.
Some of the publishers include:
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One of the biggest benefits of Instant Articles is that the platform is fast and responsive, allowing articles to load instantly – as much as 10 times faster than the standard mobile web, says Facebook. This makes both reading and sharing easier.
Publishers benefit by getting additional exposure for their stories, and articles that are shared more often, rank higher in Facebook’s News Feed, making them visible to even more users. They are able to control what they publish and are able to sell ads within the articles while also earning comScore traffic credit for those stories.
According to The Verge, who participates in Instant Articles along with parent company Vox Media, the format allows publishers to build a richer reading experience with features like audio captions and photo galleries, without bogging down the reading experience with hidden advertising and analytics that typically slow down load time.
On Friday, DigiDay posted an article “News UK CMO: Facebook has a ‘duty of care’ to publishers,” in which Chris Duncan has a more favorable view toward Instant Articles, especially now that The Sun has taken down its paywall and is looking to increase traffic. The Sun is among 13 U.K. publishers who have agreed to be beta partners for Instant Articles. He was previously considered that Facebook had become an intermediary between publishers and readers.
“We talked at length to Facebook on this,” Duncan told DigiDay. “They have shifted from being a social network to a customer platform. And once you become a customer platform on which businesses’ results rely, you have a duty of care and have to manage those relationships differently.”
The Sun is interested in monitoring the stories it publishes on Instant Articles to see which go viral, measuring how many new readers they attract and if the articles on Facebook drive additional revenue.
Duncan is optimistic that the faster page-load time will be attractive to readers, but he has concerns about publishing on multiple platforms while trying to draw readers back to the News UK’s own websites, especially when covering breaking news.
“If you’re an editor covering the Paris attacks, the last thing you want to worry about is building articles for Facebook’s Instant Articles, Google’s AMP and Apple News, then for our own mobile and tablet apps and also for press,” said Duncan.
We can see advantages and disadvantages for both readers and publishers with Instant Articles. Readers, of course, get a better, faster reading experience, while publishers grow their exposure and have the potential for an additional revenue stream. With Facebook’s audience of 1.01 billion daily active users, on average, with 894 million of those as mobile daily active users, as of September 2015, publishers have a built-in marketplace to tap into.
We love innovation and anything that improves the user experience while also benefiting publishers, but this seems almost too good to be true. We suspect Google thinks so too, thus its development of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) in partnership with many of the same publishers who have signed up for Instant Articles.
Publishers can mitigate their concerns about publishing on multiple platforms and becoming too reliant on Facebook by testing Instant Articles to see if it makes sense for their business model and audience, and by following the data trail. Is Instant Articles drawing readers back to their own sites? Are they making money on the ad share? Is Instant Articles helping or hurting audience development and subscriber acquisition?
As mobile use continues to grow, we anticipate publishers will take advantage of any opportunity and platform to get in front of and to engage readers. Instant Articles is one platform – albeit a big one – to add to its arsenal.