The Latest Bet in News: Facebook Instant Articles

In yet another nod to the growing influence of mobile news, Facebook Instant Articles made its debut last week, with some very prominent media outlets by its side.  The New York Times, The Atlantic, NBC News and Buzzfeed have all signed on to the project, which promises to offer fast access to news articles with multimedia content, directly to Facebook’s mobile app.

The promise is that articles will load faster (Facebook claims up to 10 times faster), since readers won’t be directed back to the authoring website. But inside that promise comes quite a large bet by the news industry, which has long been trying to drive and protect web traffic to their own sites. Has the social media juggernaut become so strong that news outlets believe they can’t win eyeballs without them? Are outlets so desperate to reach people who abandoned them for social sites that this is the better way forward?  These are the questions that many news critics are exploring.

CNN’s Brian Stelter summed up the controversy: “To some [media outlets], it’s an obvious win-win… To many others, however, Facebook is a ‘frenemy’ to the news business, competing for attention and ad dollars.”

Techcrunch offered a clear-eyed take: “Facebook’s on a quest to bar the exits to its app and keep users bouncing around its endless stream of content and ads. Publishers can cooperate and come inside, or risk being left out.”

As Matt Kapko at CIO Magazine said earlier this week, “the introduction of Instant Articles probably won’t change the reasons why people use Facebook, but it will change how users interact with content from large media brands. Getting content in front of as many eyeballs as possible is every publisher’s goal, so they can’t overlook Facebook, the biggest eyeball emporium in cyberspace.”

It’s a gamble for sure, and one worth watching. Will it pay off for our favorite news brands? Only time, and clicks, will tell.