June 11, 2015 Last Updated 11:20 am

Guest post: Facebook publishing for magazine publishers

Laura Summers, Head of Marketing at the digital publishing platform YUDU, discusses Facebook’s new publishing initiative, and how it might help to grow magazine audiences

In April this year it was announced that Facebook’s monthly user base is now larger than the population of China. Daily active users for the social media platform came in at 936 million on average for March 2015, an increase of 17 percent year-over-year.

These staggering figures are largely influenced by the growth of mobile access to the platform. COO Sheryl Sandberg was recently quoted as saying that “Facebook and its Instagram app now control more than one out of every five minutes that U.S. users spend on mobile,” giving them huge reach not just in terms of their core functionality, but in terms of what they can offer third parties as a platform to reach out to this user base.

pwc-chart-1With all these ‘readers’ averting their attention to Facebook, we are led to question where this leaves the readership of print magazines. Surely if so many people are dedicating their downtime to Facebook, this is going to have a negative impact in terms of consumption of traditional forms of content – something has been long argued by media analysts.

This graph from PricewaterhouseCoopers shows the steady decline in circulation revenues across both print and digital, during the same period as Facebook’s user base has been on the increase. One media challenge has always been the competition for reader’s time. It’s not just about money; everyone’s time is finite too.

The growth in Facebook and associated web 2.0 is likely to be part of the reason why magazine readership is on the decline. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that a full 30% of Americans get their news from Facebook, another clear indication of a shift in Facebook’s direction.

Facebook is increasingly able to steer the decline or growth of those businesses who use the site for marketing and as an ad platform, contrary to popular belief, it’s actually growing in strength. Last year, the platform decided to downgrade the prominence of viral content like cat videos and promote “high quality” news content. A month ago, it changed course again to highlight personal posts by users’ friends and family.

FB-IA-2cFrom a publishing perspective, the roll out of ‘instant articles’ last month is an interesting new concept that could help to grow magazine audience figures, or alternatively undermine their own business, as their content becomes more freely available on the web.

BuzzFeed, National Geographic, The Guardian, BBC News and The Times all signed up to the new program which allows them to publish one item weekly in the new format. The main benefit, in addition to getting content read more widely, is the speed with which items, even those with complex video and interactive maps, loaded once a mobile Facebook user clicked on them.

Instant articles are a much faster means to accessing content than links to any third party site – and Facebook is also permitting the news companies to collect data about the people reading the articles with the same tools they use to track visitors to their own sites.

YUDU has been enabling publishers to post content onto Facebook for many years now too. Although this doesn’t post the content directly into the feed, as with instant articles, it is equally impactful – as the content-sharing is only facilitated by users wanting to share the magazine content. By sharing the page of an edition, readers are able to give their followers a glance of their tastes and opinions. From a publisher’s perspective, the strength of a social share holds much more weight than any brand promotion, as we all know that people buy from those that they know, like, and trust.

Facebook has empowered individuals to voice opinions and share content on their mobile devices in ways that could have scarcely been imagined 15 years ago. Beyond what we have seen, many see messaging apps as the future of social engagement. If this is indeed the case, then Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp was an extremely smart move, but it remains to be seen how well WhatsApp can be integrated with Facebook to cross-subsidize traffic in both directions.

LS-2-featureIn the years to come, the way in which we both input and observe media will have completely shifted – if 30 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook already and Facebook are happy to keep sharing their data with publishers, then working out how to be a part of this should be an integral part of publishing strategy.

Laura Summers is Head of Marketing at YUDU and co-founder of BookMachine. This post originally appeared on the YUDU blog.

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