The Guardian opts out of Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 22 April 2017

The Guardian has pulled out of Facebook's Instant Articles and will no longer publish content on Apple News after an "extensive trial" with the platforms.

The publisher was one of the original Instant Article pioneers back in 2015 when Facebook launched the fast-loading, mobile-first format. Earlier this year, The Guardian went all-in on Instant Articles, running every article through the format. 

“We have run extensive trials on Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News to assess how they fit with our editorial and commercial objectives. Having evaluated these trials, we have decided to stop publishing in those formats on both platforms," The Guardian said in a statement.

"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.”

Facebook launched Instant Articles in 2015 as a way for publishers to make their content more mobile-friendly. Under the deal, the digital giant modified stories to make them load faster on smartphones and offered publishers a share of advertising revenue.

Initially, publishers welcomed the Facebook deal, with major publishers like Fairfax, News Corp, The New York Times and BuzzFeed agreeing to be part of the format.

However, concerns have been building within the wider media industry that Instant Articles are eroding a publishers' audience and revenue by cutting out the publisher-owned platform in favour of direct eyeballs within Facebook. The New York Times recently opted out of Instant Articles and other publishers are reported to be slowing usage.

Many media companies also say the amount of revenue they've been getting from the Facebook feature does not measure up to what they get on their own sites, with misreporting of traffic also hurting trust with publishers.

While Facebook's Instant Articles has proven to generate lacklustre revenue, some publishers have been more complimentary about the returns they are getting from Apple News, which distributes content from partners through a news-reading app.

Behind the news

The relationship publishers have with Facebook is complex, as media companies rely on Facebook for audience but the digital giant is continually chipping away at their advertising revenue.

At a Guardian event earlier this year, the publisher's editor-in-chief Katharine Viner took aim at Facebook’s business model, calling for the company to do more to help quality journalism survive and criticising it for creating "filter bubbles". 

Her impassioned point-of-view is one shared by many in the industry, however publishing execs are hesitant to speak out against Facebook because it has become such a vital part of distributing content. With ad revenue flailing and cost-cutting across the board, they aren't in a position to bite the hand that feeds them. 

Last year when AdNews dug deeper on the issue, someone in a top ranking commercial role at a publisher in Australia said Facebook is "holding publishers to ransom", but media companies were helpless in the situation.

With The BBC, National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal reported to be barely using Instant Articles, and now The Guardian following The New York Times' lead and opting out completely, it's clear publishers aren’t happy with the deal platforms are cutting them.

Like we've seen recently with the Audited Media Association of Australia’s (AMAA) mass exodus, publishers tend to move in packs and now The Guardian has made the move globally, Australian publishers could follow suit. 

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