Facebook shares result of news subscription test

Turns out you're more likely to subscribe if you get your news through Instant Articles.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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Seeing an article on Facebook could increase the likelihood of subscribing to a publication. 

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Facebook is working hard to be more involved in your news consumption. 

On Wednesday, the company shared new details on a test it launched in October that explores the sale of subscriptions through Instant Articles

Instant Articles is a feature that makes reading stories on the platform faster and more immersive. Through the subscription models, which are being tested with publishers across the US and Europe, Facebook offers support for things like paywalls and prompting users to subscribe to publications for full access to content. If a person decides to subscribe, the transaction takes place on the publisher's website, giving them control over things like data, payments and pricing. 

Facebook says the test has been advantageous for most publishers involved -- including The Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun and the San Francisco Chronicle. In May, Facebook users who saw Instant Articles from publishers in the test group were 17 percent more likely, on average, to subscribe to the publications directly from Facebook than people who came across standard web links, the company said.

"As is the case for many publishers, subscriptions are a strategic priority for our business, so the ability to give readers a way to subscribe is very important," Beth Diaz, vice president of audience development and analytics at The Washington Post, said in a statement. 

Mark Campbell, senior vice president of digital marketing at Tribune Interactive, said its subscription conversion rate jumped more than 50 percent among readers who visit the publisher from Facebook in the Baltimore test market. 

Facebook's investment in the news industry comes as it grapples with accusations of spreading misinformation and fake news. Some say those things helped elect President Donald Trump, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially called "crazy" before finally sharing a plan to get rid of fake information on the site. In January, Zuckerberg made a commitment to fix Facebook this year. 

Facebook has also previously leveraged media platforms in an attempt to fix its image. In May, it launched three new initiatives that included a news literacy campaign, a short film exploring the company's fight against fake news and recruiting researchers to study misinformation on the platform. In March, Zuckerberg took out full-page ads in several US and UK newspapers to apologize for the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which data from as many as 87 million Facebook users was improperly shared with the political consultancy.

Last year, Facebook launched "call-to-action" units for Instant Articles, allowing publishers to ask readers to join mailing lists or grant various permissions. This most recent move takes the role of publishers on the platform one step further. 

Facebook is also testing several updates to Instant Articles subscriptions, including tools that let publishers define when a reader will hit a paywall, support for special offers (such as a 4th of July sale) and a model that predicts how likely someone is to become a subscriber. The company will also start working with more publishers to bring their subscription models to Instant Articles, including Brazil's O Globo.  

Beyond Instant Articles, Facebook is testing a button that shows up on a publisher's Facebook page and lets them promote a subscription offer. The company says it wants to roll this function out more broadly in the coming months. 

Last week, Facebook finished a pilot of the 3-month-long Local News Subscriptions Accelerator, a program that looked at helping US metro newspapers boost their digital subscription business. 

"We're committed to helping to foster a sustainable news industry -- from distribution to monetization through marketing, subscription tools, and better analytics," Facebook said in a statement. "We'll continue working across the industry to support the quality journalism our society relies on."

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