February 17, 2016

In a long-awaited move, Facebook announced this afternoon that it plans to open up access to its Instant Articles program to publishers around the world, giving every news organization the capability to publish their content on the social network.

The program, which was previously available to a select group of publishers numbering in the hundreds, will be available to any Facebook user who owns a page. This opens the program to individual bloggers as well as larger newsrooms. Instant Articles is slated to launch for wider use at Facebook’s F8 conference on April 12.

“From the beginning, our vision has been to create a product that works for people all over the world and for publishers all over the world,” said Josh Roberts, the product manager for Instant Articles, “no matter how big they are or what their focus is.”

Today’s announcement is a watershed development in the ongoing trend toward “distributed content” — the idea that news organizations will increasingly publish their stories and videos on a variety of platforms without expecting readers to refer back to their websites. The distributed model allows publishers to maximize their readership on social media and elsewhere, but it also means that publishers are no longer the sole arbiter of the channels people use to find their news.

When Instant Articles launched in May, the program was the subject of much concern among media types who were wary of giving social networks like Facebook too much power by using it as a means of distribution. But some publishers have embraced Instant Articles: The Washington Post, for example, is posting all of its stories on the social network in a bid to reach the widest possible audience.

Since Instant Articles launched, Facebook’s gotten “thousands” of request from news organizations interested in publishing their content on the social network, Roberts said. The company is prepared for a flood of stories to be published on Instant Articles but doesn’t want to speculate about how many news organizations will sign up, Roberts said.

Since it launched with a handful of publishers, including The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, Facebook has been steadily adding to its roster of publishing partners and making tweaks to its advertising offerings. Early complaints with the number of advertisements Facebook allowed on Instant Articles resulted in tweaks that have reportedly been amenable to publishers.

Publishers are offered two monetization methods with the Instant Articles program: They can either sell the ads themselves, or use Facebook’s network for advertising. Publishers keep 100 percent of the revenue on advertisements they sell themselves and split the revenue with Facebook for use of its ad network. Facebook doesn’t break out the specifics of the revenue split publicly, but an article from The Wall Street Journal published in March put the proportions at 70 percent for the publisher and 30 percent for the social network.

When New York Times media columnist David Carr first outlined the contours of Facebook’s (then-unnamed) Instant Articles program in 2014, he compared the social media giant to a big dog running toward you at top speed: “It’s hard to tell whether he wants to play with you or eat you.”

Now, it’s clear Facebook wants to play — and it’s inviting a ton of people to the party.

Correction: A previous version of this story called Josh Roberts the “project manager” for Instant Articles. In fact, he is the product manager.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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