Facebook Is Pursuing a Subscription Tool for News Outlets on Its Site

Facebook is working on a new tool that could help drive subscriptions to news organizations that publish articles directly on the online service, an effort to improve the fraught relationship between the social giant and media companies.

The tool would be added to Facebook’s Instant Articles product, which allows publishers to post news articles that can be read within Facebook rather than on the publisher’s website.

The discussions about the tool are still in the early stages, according to two people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details were not public. But it is possible that Facebook could produce a metered pay wall product similar to those used by some publishers. After reading 10 New York Times articles on Facebook, for instance, a user could be sent to The Times’s subscription sign-up page.

Facebook plans to start a pilot with a small group of publishers using the tool in October and to expand the initiative in 2018 if early results are promising. It was not clear which publishers might participate in the test.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier on the discussions.

“We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook,” Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook, said in a statement. “As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs.”

News outlets have become increasingly dissatisfied with how online platforms like Facebook and Google are consuming the digital advertising market and gaining more control over the online distribution of news. This month, a group of publishers started an effort to gain group bargaining rights so they might be able to negotiate more effectively with the online platforms that are threatening their business models.

While nearly all publishers have shifted their attention to increasing digital revenue, most are still seeking profitable solutions that will work in the long term.

Although many publishers recognize the importance of online platforms for getting their content in front of broad audiences, there are also drawbacks. Publishers are concerned about losing valuable ties to their readers, particularly subscriber data and payment connections. Readers may also become accustomed to staying in Facebook to consume news, instead of, say, navigating directly to publishers’ sites.

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