Facebook Begins Testing Paywall, Subscription Models For Instant Articles: No iOS For Now, Though


Facebook is now ready to test new subscription models over the next several weeks for Instant Articles in the United States and Europe.

Reports back in July suggested that the company was experimenting with Facebook allowing paywalled content. Facebook sort of confirmed that a month later in August, saying it’s going to add subscription options on Instant Articles for users to have easier access to more content.

For the uninitiated, Instant Articles is Facebook’s own publishing platform that lets news organizations and content creators display their articles up to 10 times faster than the standard mobile web view.

Facebook plans to start with two paywalled options for publishers to choose from: The first one is a metered model where audiences get to read 10 free articles a month before being prompted to subscribe. The second one is a “freemium” model where publishers get to decide which articles it’ll publish for free, and which ones it’ll hide behind a paywall.

Several news publishers participating in the testing period include The Boston Globe, The Economist, The Washington Post, and many others.

When a nonsubscriber uses up 10 articles or hits a paywall, they’ll be encouraged to subscribe, and when they do decide to subscribe, Facebook will take them directly to the publisher’s website, and all transactions will happen there. That means the social network won’t profit from subscriptions initiated by Instant Articles, and publishers get 100 percent of the revenue.

That setup, as Recode reports, is probably why Instant Articles is only available on Android for now, leaving iOS out of the bandwagon. Apple, by contrast, has certain rules for apps which essentially give the company 30 percent of money generated from in-app purchases. While the transaction process for subscriptions happens externally, Apple still considers it in-app as Facebook acts as the catalyst for that to happen — thus, it must technically profit from every new subscription.

There’s no word on whether Instant Articles will ever come to iOS, but Facebook says “we hope to expand it soon.”

Instant Articles was initially rolled out in 2015, but news publishers didn’t warm up to it until recently. They were wary that the platform gave them less revenue since it featured less ads and kept readers on Facebook instead of publishers’ sites. Still, faster loading times are attractive enough to keep them interested.

As mentioned, testing will occur over the next few weeks. Once a publisher is onboard, paywalls and subscriptions will automatically be available to all users who are able to view the articles.

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