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Facebook Looking to Launch Paid Subscription Feature for News Publishers

Variety logo Variety 7/19/2017 Janko Roettgers
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Facebook may soon add a pay wall for news content from premium publishers. The company’s news partnerships head Campbell Brown told publishers at an industry event in New York this week that the company is getting ready to test news subscriptions as early as this fall.

Brown’s remarks were first reported by The Street Wednesday, which relayed Brown saying that tests will begin in October.

Details of those tests are still unclear, but Facebook is apparently looking into adopting a metered pay wall model similar to that currently in place at the New York Times. The paper offers users access to up to 10 articles a month for free, after which they have to subscribe to read more.

Facebook’s publisher pay wall is likely being based on the company’s Instant Articles feature. Facebook launched Instant Articles in cooperation with some select publishers two years ago, giving them a way to publish their stories directly to Facebook’s platform. The initial pitch was that this would make it easier for Facebook users to consume faster-loading news stories, and thus get publishers access to much bigger audiences.

However, publishers have long criticized that they haven’t been able to monetize Instant Articles to the same degree as content hosted on their own sites. The New York Times stopped using Instant Articles altogether, as have Forbes and Hearst, according to Digiday. Others have scaled back the number of stories they publish to the platform.

Instant Articles directly competes with Google’s AMP project, which also promises publishers faster mobile load times. AMP has been supporting subscriptions since early 2016, but some publishers have also complained about lagging ad revenue.

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