Facebook is throwing publishers a bone in the form of more performance data on Instant Articles

With publishers souring on Facebook Instant Articles, the social giant announced today that it’s rolling out a tool that lets publishers measure how much those fast-loading mobile articles get viewed compared to their mobile web equivalents.

Publishers have asked for data on how their Instant Articles perform since Facebook rolled out the feature in spring 2015. Until now, Facebook provided only an aggregate lift figure across all publishers — saying that people in the U.S. and Canada read at least 25 percent more Instant Articles than their mobile equivalents — but didn’t break it out by publisher.

Instant Articles keeps users within Facebook’s app, where they are harder for publishers to monetize. That’s led many big-name publishers including The New York Times, The Guardian and Hearst to pull back or stop publishing to Instant Articles.

With the new tool, publishers can see how their Instant Articles perform and if the revenue value of those additional views offsets any limitations Instant Articles put on monetization and editorial formats. For Wired, which has used Instant Articles since it launched, it’ll help inform Wired’s social strategy, too, said Jason Tanz, Wired’s site director. It also could answer the question of whether publishers that speed up their mobile sites on their own still get a benefit of being in Instant Articles if Facebook puts its thumb on the scale for publishers that participate in its program.

“You get to figure out what that little lightning bolt is worth,” said Dan Check, vice chairman of Slate, which is using the tool to evaluate its decision to publish most, if not all, its Facebook articles as Instant Articles. “This informs the conversation.”

DailyMail.com has published everything as Instant Articles from the start, and the tool validates that decision, and Noah Szubski, chief product officer there. “We know that with the uplift, we’re doing better” in terms of monetization, he said.

Another publisher, LittleThings, already knows how each piece of its content reaches people and monetizes on Instant Articles versus the mobile version, thanks to its in-house analytics. Based on that, it only publishes as much as one-fourth of its content through Instant Articles, usually longer articles that have more monetization capabilities, said Gretchen Tibbits, president and COO. Facebook would have to do much better in terms of monetization for LittleThings to change tack.

The tool basically gives publishers one data point for now. Facebook is measuring article views in groups of people who can see Instant Articles and a control group that only sees mobile web versions of articles in a 30-day period. Facebook said it used Nielsen to validate its methodology and that it plans to add more metrics in the months ahead.

Today’s announcement is part of a broader effort by Facebook to listen to publishers more and give them the data and monetization they’ve sought from the platform. Facebook also has been making moves to let people subscribe to publications through Facebook, another longtime publisher demand.

Kimberly Lau, svp and head of business development at The Atlantic, said she’d like to see more data, but is glad Facebook released what it did.

“It’s an important step in this process, and we’re excited about it because it’s a show of good faith that they’re making it public,” she said.


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