25/02/2016, 13:42

What do Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News & Google AMP mean for publishers?

The giants Facebook, Apple and Google are currently in a race to capture their share of the advertising revenue for mobile browsers. Their claim is for better user experience with faster mobile loading at the core but of course their main reasons are revenue and market share.

The core use case of the technologies mentioned in this post is to repurpose the content in new channels. Here we see three approaches that are looking to solve the same problem in a way that is best for the respective company. What does this mean for publishers?

Let's summarize what's happening at Facebook, Apple and Google, and if you want to learn more how eZ supports these kinds of platforms, click here.

Facebook Instant Articles

Facebook launched Facebook Instant Articles to reduce load times and create articles that load "instantly" when viewing them from your Facebook App. The format limits what you can put into an article, especially when it comes to navigation and advertising. Facebook keeps you in their ecosystem and you have limited possibilities to keep the reader engaged with your brand and to motivate them to read more content.

The ad model for Facebook Instant Articles is that the publisher can sell their own inventory and keep 100% of the ad revenue, while unsold inventory are sold by Facebook for a 30% cut.

Developers can take a look at the documentation for Facebook Instant Articles to make sense of the technology used.

Apple News

Apple News is another take, where Apple launched their own platform for distributing news articles via their own proprietary format using JSON. Revenue models are similar for Apple News where publishers can sell their own inventory and keep 100% and let Apple sell the rest for a 30% cut. Ad blocking has become more and more popular on the iOS platform lately - this could be seen as a move to increase Apple's market share while keeping others out.

As is the tradition with Apple, the focus is first on the user experience, specifically to create a reader experience with beautiful layouts and varied content from different sources. Of course, their approach, like Facebook's, is intended to lock the user into their own platform. What publishers stand to gain in increased content consumption, they stand to lose in brand recognition and traffic on their own sites. Additionally, with these platforms, publishers don't have control of navigation and discoverability of their content - two important aspects that publishers should consider.

Google AMP

Google Accelerated Mobile Pages now seems like a savior as it is an open source initiative to provide a faster web experience. There is no doubt that the move to responsive web experiences provides a good mobile user experience, but in many cases it provides a bloated user experience compared to e.g. an adaptive and optimized mobile approach.

Google AMP is basically a way to create fast-loading content independent of ecosystem. Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News will keep the reader within their proprietary ecosystems, and their closed approach limits the monetization possibilities as well as the reader experience to pre-defined layouts. Of course Facebook's and Apple's ecosystems can also be seen as an additional revenue stream and there can be possibilities there, but be aware of diluting your brand recognition.

Google AMP is more open and well, they basically want to extend the model of the "free internet" where the ads are sold by Google and traffic delivered via the Google search engine. So they are basically looking not to have Facebook and Apple take more of their existing position.

Google seems to address this from an open technology standpoint whereas Facebook and Apple are in the lock-in mode, trying to keep readers in their ecosystems.

Are publishers' revenue models being threatened, again?

For publishers considering forming partnerships with these and other content aggregators, there's the long-standing dilemma of getting the extra exposure and potential revenue while potentially undermining their own brand. But is there an even bigger threat here further into the future? If we look at TV, HBO used to be an aggregator for other studios' movies and sold subscriptions. Once they built their user base, they started producing their own unique content. This is the same move we now see with Netflix. Is this the real threat for publishers? That Google, Facebook and Apple will start producing their own content to get an even bigger slice of the pie?

Publishers must be multichannel-ready

It is now more clear than ever that it is crucial for publishers to have a super structured content model and rich APIs that allow them to repurpose their content and adapt to new channels as they arise.

Your content management system (CMS) should store structured content -- separating content from presentation - and enable you to create your own content model, to meet you business needs. Then, if you decide to partner with an aggregator, you'll be prepared, on the technical side, to feed your content to other channels and platforms.

With eZ, it's simple to publish content in these new platforms

eZ's content platform is multichannel by default. We can support any format, especially those that are HTML based, since we are full XML and do not mix content with presentation. To support, for example, Facebook Instant Articles, you can simply modify the templates in eZ to structure the HTML so it fits the HTML of the platform. Of course, you can use our API, for example, a full JSON delivery of Apple News articles. With the pure JSON delivery you see the power of storing all content in a channel-neutral format in eZ, allowing you to easily translate to other formats as needed.

Improving speed and user experience on mobile

A good thing that's coming out of all this is the push forward to a better and faster user experience on mobile. The focus on speed and good mobile readability is something that is very welcome, and Facebook, Apple and Google are all committed to this.

But perhaps a well implemented adaptive mobile website could just as easily have solved these issues, limiting the cost of experimentation for the publishers. You can create excellent reader experiences and fast-loading mobile sites without adopting these standards. This could be beneficial in terms of freedom of business models as well as user experience. As it stands today, publishers should, or perhaps even need, to experiment with both approaches - great experiences in their traditional channels as well as exploiting new possibilities.

One thing is clear, there will be more formats and channels for the publishers to support going forward.

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