Publishers Enter Facebook’s Walled Garden

Facebook might just be the new Skynet, but that’s not stopping some publishers from eagerly jumping at the chance to enjoy the social-amplification powers of a platform that now counts 800 million active users.

The Facebook Editions initiative, part of Facebook’s “Read, Watch, Listen” strategy, is aimed at keeping more media consumption within its borders. While details are still emerging, the idea is that Facebook users will be able to download apps containing content from their favorite publishers, and what they read or watch will be broadcast across a user’s friend network.

It remains to be seen exactly how much content publishers will distribute on Facebook. Most aren’t live yet. Will these new apps feature every single article, photo and picture from their Web counterparts — and if so, what does that do to a site’s traffic? Among the publishers launching via Facebook editions are The Daily, Washington Post, Slate and Reuters, according to Forbes.com.
Speaking last week at Digiday Social, SB Nation’s CEO Jim Bankoff said publishers shouldn’t worry about Facebook siphoning away all their traffic. “The concept of the website is outdated,” he said. “I desperately want to be as integrated with Facebook as possible. It makes me uncomfortable not being there. The notion of being worried about being subsumed by Facebook is a fallacy. It’s dangerous.”
However, despite previous reports, SB Nation is not yet part of Editions. In fact, it’s interesting to note which publishers are staying away from Facebook editions. The New York Times isn’t there. USA Today isn’t. There are no Time Inc. publications, no Hearst titles, no Conde Nast and no CNN. The Wall Street Journal is doing its own thing. And among Web natives, no Gawker and no AOL even.
Publishers are often cautious in the digital world. But they usually run when they smell an opportunity to build readership and increase ad sales. Still, Facebook’s efforts smack many of  a typical walled garden where the gatekeeper has too much control. After all, publishers are still smarting over the onerous rules and hefty taxes Apple levies.
“To me, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly good deal for publishers,” said one prominent Web executive. “At least with Apple, you can monetize by charging for content. This smacks of AOL”
“If you put your whole site there, you don’t get people coming to your site, you lose uniques, page views, etc.,” the executive said. “And you are always going to monetize better. What does Facebook get for its ads, 25 cents?”
News Corp.’s The Daily is one of the first to launch a Facebook Editions App. But that much-maligned tablet newspaper has different motivations than other publishers — and it is being deliberately restrained in how much content it puts on Facebook, as not to cannibalize its paid iPad app, which is mostly isolated from the general Web.
“It’s definitely marketing [for us],” said Greg Clayman, publisher of The Daily, who added. “We’re kind of a different beast.”
For The Daily, Facebook lets users taste content that has otherwise been isolated on an Apple island. The idea is to coax more readers to become paying subcribers; Clayman said that application will offer lots of ways to purchase The Daily.
Given that dynamic, it’s a wonder why Facebook isn’t making it easier for publishers to charge for content. Wouldn’t Facebook Credits be an easy, palatable, low-cost way of getting users to hand over a few bucks for a subscription? “That would be awesome,” said Clayman.
Facebook Credits would be the ideal way to boost The New York Times’ budding digital subscription model. Beyond that, other publishers would seem to have an opportunity to reboot with Facebook editions and Credits — how easy would it be to pay per page view, when you are spending virtual currency?

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