Facebook Exec Says It May Start Making You Pay For The News

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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Facebook is experimenting with a subscription-based service for access to news stories, according to an executive’s statement provided Wednesday to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook,” said Campbell Brown, head of news partnerships at Facebook and a former CNN anchor. “As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs,” she continued, referring to a proposal that may be integrated into a feature called Instant Articles.

The social media company turned tech conglomerate is considering making users pay for news content. The payment process, though, is still being determined, according to a source familiar with the proposal, so it is not clear if and how much of the profits will be going to the publishers or Facebook.

In cities like New York and Paris over the past few months, the company has been conducting both one-on-one and roundtable meetings with media executives to discuss their plans. (RELATED: Facebook Hires New York Times Veteran For Fake News Battle)

Many of the publications, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, offer a certain amount of articles for free before restricting further articles behind a paywall. While a limit has not yet been set, preliminary discussions indicate the model may allow for around 10 free articles a month. But this may cause some dissonance since different publications have various thresholds for the amount of complimentary articles offered. Also, some, like The WSJ, for example, try to forbid internet users from employing “private” or “incognito” browsing modes to avoid its paywall, a purported capability that may become ineffective if Facebook doesn’t also utilize it.

Facebook is trying to enable publishers to gain more control over their content, in what appears to be a policy of appeasement.

From former President Barack Obama to former employees upset about the results of the 2016 presidential election, powerful people have been pressuring Facebook to help decipher and purge news stories that are false, misleading, or substantiated — even though doing so in a completely objective way would be difficult, perhaps impossible. (RELATED: Facebook Pushes Back Against Germany’s Plan To Fight Free Speech)

Aside from allegations of helping to disseminate “fake news,” Facebook is also being accused of ruining the media industry in another way.

Press Gazette, a British media outlet, launched a petition in April to stop both Facebook and Google from “destroying journalism” by hogging digital advertisement revenue from traditional news publishers. Months later, through a coalition known as the News Media Alliance, media giants like The NYT and WSJ reportedly started coordinating to petition federal lawmakers to make substantial policy changes. The consortium wants an exemption from antitrust regulations — which often forbid media organizations from banding together — so they can collectively negotiate with Google and Facebook, and end the two companies’ ad revenue hegemony.

A source familiar with the nascent initiative says the company is expecting to test the feature with a small group of publishers by the end of the year in order to determine if it will move forward with the proposal and expand upon it.

Overall, the move is likely a concession since many media organizations are increasing their clamoring over Facebook and Google’s combined ad revenue duopoly.

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