Facebook Challenges Top News Aggregators With Smart Subscription Move

The move is seen as a direct threat to other news aggregator platforms like Apple News+, Flipboard, and upcoming Google news product

With an aim to help its over 2.7 billion users consume news on its platform without logging into the news subscription websites along with skipping their paywalls, Facebook that calls itself a fifth estate has built a new smart account linking tool.

Once implemented, linked subscribers will not meet paywalls when accessing articles from Facebook, and won't be asked to sign-in repeatedly -- a common pain point many subscribers and publishers face today, according to the social network.

A Threat to News Aggregators

The move is seen as a direct threat to other news aggregator platforms like Apple News+, Flipboard, and upcoming Google news product and a CNN news aggregator. Currently, most large news organizations have paywalls that limit outsider access to news and are increasingly focused on subscriptions to help drive their business.

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Facebook (Representational Picture) Reuters

According to Stephen Largen, product marketing manager at Facebook, the social network is collaborating with publishers around the world to test this new product which allows people to link their news subscription accounts on Facebook. "The goal is to help publishers deepen their relationships with subscribers, and to provide a better news consumption experience on Facebook for those subscribers," Largen said in a blog post.

In June, subscribers in the Facebook test group who had linked their subscription accounts on Facebook had on average 111 percent more article clicks compared to subscribers who were not part of the test group.

Relationships WIth Loyal Readers

Account linking has also driven more subscribers to follow their subscription publishers on Facebook. Through June, publishers' Facebook followers jumped from 34 percent to more than 97 percent among subscribers who had linked their accounts.

"Publishers in all world regions are building sustainable, enduring relationships with loyal readers," said David Grant, Program Manager for the Facebook Journalism Project's Accelerator program.

"Through account linking, we hope that Facebook can be a powerful extension of those efforts, helping news organizations drive deeper subscriber engagement and bring more paying readers to their high-quality journalism, which is the foundation of keeping communities informed and connected".

Improving Subscriber Account Linking

Another benefit of the product is that linked subscribers of eligible publishers in the US will see more news stories from their publishers in their Facebook News experience. Facebook said it is investing in several areas as it works to improve the subscriber account linking tool.

"We're adding additional partners to the product test and are actively working to measure subscriber retention driven by account linking, and other approaches to measuring impact for publishers," the company said. It is testing new places for subscribers to link their accounts within the Facebook app, such as within Facebook News.

"We're actively working on an approach that would allow subscribers to directly initiate the account linking process on publisher websites." Currently, some newspapers like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Athletic and the Winnipeg Free Press in the US are testing the subscriber account linking feature.

Last year, Facebook expanded access to subscriptions under 'Instant Articles' for all eligible global publishers, a product that allows publishers to keep 100 percent of the revenue they garner from new subscribers.

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