Facebook is building a news tab and keeps referencing Apple News in private talks with publishers

facebook ceo mark zuckerberg

  • Facebook is looking for a handful of top-tier publishers to launch a dedicated news section that it would pay them to participate in, as it tries to recover from criticism over spreading fake news.
  • Facebook is taking a page from rival Apple by planning to do a mix of curation and personalization, according to people familiar with the proposal.
  • The reported three-year deals contrast with past short-lived initiatives by Facebook to compensate publishers.
  • But some publishers still have doubts about whether people will actually visit the section and if Facebook will stick with it long-term.
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Facebook is looking for a handful of top-drawer publishers to launch a dedicated news section that it would pay them to participate in, and it’s taking a page from Apple News by planning to do a mix of curation and personalization, according to people familiar with the proposal.

Apple has compared itself favorably with Facebook with its news aggregation app that is guided by an editorial team, enabling it to avoid the fake news problem that’s plagued Facebook. Apple also recently added a subscription component to the app that shares revenue with publishers. 

One publisher said Facebook reps repeatedly referenced Apple in discussing its own planned news tab.

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Facebook is looking to do deals with publishers in the coming weeks as it prepares to launch a test version of the news section in the fourth quarter. The terms of the proposed deals contrast sharply with short-lived past initiatives by Facebook to compensate publishers for sharing their stories on the platform.

According to The Wall Street Journal and our sources, Facebook reps told news executives they would pay as much as $3 million a year for three years to license headlines and previews of their articles. Publishers were told they could have their articles displayed in the tab or have readers click through to their sites, which would let the publisher monetize those visits directly. 

Fees are expected to vary by publisher size

Sources briefed by Facebook believed the licensing fee would be commensurate with the news outlet’s story volume and some could get less than $1 million. One publisher was quoted $1 million, for example.

The three-year term detail is significant given how Facebook has compensated publishers in the past. It funded shows for its Watch video section a year ago, but Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, repeatedly used the words “test” and “experiment” when describing the news shows, and most of the publishers that got money only got it for a year.

One publisher whose show was canceled, Mic, shut down, blaming Facebook for its demise. 

Back in 2016, Facebook paid $50 million to a number of publishers to make live video, but that money faded after a year.

The payments will only help a few publishers

Facebook is expected to launch with a small handful of publishers as it has in the past with news initiatives. It launched Facebook Instant Articles in 2015, one of its first significant news publisher efforts, with nine outlets. As it’s done with new news initiatives in the past, it’s pitching the news tab to prestige publishers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, The Atlantic, and New York magazine, according to our sources and the Journal. 

That means many publishers won’t make the cut, which raises questions about how much the initiative will help the struggling news industry.

Facebook will also have to convince some publishers that the news tab will get a sizable audience, given news isn’t the primary reason most people use Facebook, and that Facebook will stay committed to the tab, since news isn’t core to Facebook’s ad business.

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