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商业 - 传媒与文化

媒体与Facebook:与虎谋皮?

Mathew Ingram 2015年05月18日

Facebook日前联合《纽约时报》等媒体推出名为“Instant Articles”的试验项目。根据协议,用户可以在FB客户端直接阅读这些媒体发布的完整文章;媒体则可以借此获取大量用户,并坐享广告分成。乍一看,这似乎是天作之合。但事实并非如此。因为在这场特殊的牌局中,所有的好牌都握在FB手中。

    

    正如此前传闻的一样,Facebook于上周三上午正式推出一个名叫“Instant Articles”(意为“即时文章”)的试验项目。该项目是Facebook联合《纽约时报》、《卫报》、BuzzFeed网站和《国家地理杂志》等媒体共同推出的。根据协议,这些合作媒体的文章将全文出现在Facebook的移动应用内,也就是说,用户可以在Facebook上直接阅读全文,而不是像以往一样只能阅读摘要,或通过一个链接转到原网页。

    乍一看,这个项目显然是一次直白的价值交换。Facebook为它的14亿用户争取到了高质量的内容,出版商们也通过Facebook获得了大量受众——另外他们还能从Facebook基于相关内容获得的广告收入分成。(据报道,如果Facebook围绕相关内容销售广告的话,出版商可以获得70%的广告收入。)所以这是一次皆大欢喜的合作,对吧?

    这显然就是Facebook用来吸引合作伙伴的套路——Facebook高风亮节地为出版商提供了更多的读者,同时双方开开心心地交换了利益。但如果一个企业达到了Facebook这样的规模和实力,哪怕是最简单的安排也可能充满潜在的危险,没有例外。为什么呢?因为在这场特殊的牌局中,所有的好牌都握在一个玩家的手里。

    正如哥伦比亚大学艾米利•贝尔在Twitter上指出的,这个“开挂”了的玩家就是Facebook。

    “出版商+Facebook”模式的主要问题是理论上的:你能否一边做新闻,一边成为一个商业权力架构的组成部分?

    — emily bell (@emilybell),2015年5月13日。

    像《纽约时报》这样的出版商之所以要进行这样的合作,首要原因是它们在移动领域大大滞后。科技分析师本•汤普森指出,Facebook有一句话说得很对:大多数新闻网站的载入速度过慢,网站本身也设计得一塌糊涂,这使得这些网页上的大多数广告百无一用。而Facebook对移动的理解是无人能比的,它的载入速度更快,界面看起来更舒服,也更吸引广告商,这在某种程度上也是由于Facebook拥有报刊媒体普遍都不具备的市场定位能力。

    这就是为什么Facebook抛出的橄榄枝如此吸引人。另外,出版商们不仅能保持部分乃至全部的广告收入,还能从Facebook那里获得用户对内容的反馈数据,这对出版商来说无疑也是非常有用的。

    此次合作之所以有那么一丝浮士德式交易的味道,也是因为Facebook从中捞取的好处要大于出版商。或许有人会问,既然Facebook把广告收入都拱手让人了,它还能获得什么好处?其实Facebook并不在乎围绕这些新闻内容的广告收入(不过我认为大多数合作媒体只能获得70%的广告收入,因为Facebook比它们更擅长销售广告)。Facebook的真正目标是深化和巩固它对用户群的吸引力。

    就这个意义而言,新闻内容只是Facebook为达成目标而采用的一个手段。蕴含的风险是,如果这种合作达不到预期效果,Facebook就会对它失去兴趣,不愿意再花大力气推广它。但与此同时,Facebook作为几百万甚至几十亿网民看新闻的“默认客户端”这一地位早已深入人心。换句话说,一旦Facebook成了“地主”,谁是给它耕地的“长工”已经不重要了。

    As has been rumored for some time, Facebook launched a trial project called “Instant Articles” on Wednesday morning—a partnership with nine news organizations, including The New York Times, The Guardian, BuzzFeed,and National Geographic. Under the terms of the deal, entire news stories from those partners will appear insideFacebook’s mobile app and be able to be read there, as opposed to the traditional practice of news publishers posting an excerpt and a link to their website.

    At first blush, this sounds like a pretty straightforward exchange of value. Facebook gets what will hopefully be engaging content for its 1.4 billion or so users, and publishers get the reach that the social network provides—plus keep any revenue from advertising that they sell around that content. (if Facebook sells the ads, then publishers reportedly get to keep 70% of the proceeds.) So everybody wins, right?

    That’s certainly the way Facebook is trying to sell the partnership: as a mutual exchange of goods, driven by the company’s desire to help publishers make their articles look as good as possible and reach more readers. But whenever you have an entity with the size and power of Facebook, even the simplest of arrangements becomes fraught with peril, and this is no exception. Why? Because a single player holds all of the cards in this particular game.

    And that player is Facebook, as Columbia University’s Emily Bell noted on Twitter:

    Main problem for publishers + FB remains theoretical: can you both be journalistic + be part of a commercial power structure?

    — emily bell (@emilybell) May 13, 2015

    The main reason why publishers like the Times have entered into this partnership in the first place is that they are falling behind when it comes to mobile. As technology analyst Ben Thompson points out, Facebook is quite right when it says that most news sites load too slowly and look terrible, rendering the ads on those pages largely useless. Facebook, however, understands mobile like no one else: everything loads faster, looks nicer and is more appealing to advertisers, in part because Facebook can do the kind of targeting that newspapers aren’t equipped to do.

    This is what makes the social behemoth’s offer so appealing. Plus, publishers get to keep some or all of the ad revenue, and they also get data about what users are doing with their content, which is always useful.

    The part of this deal that makes it a classic Faustian bargain is that Facebook arguably gets more from the arrangement than publishers do. How could that be, when it is giving away all the revenue? Because Facebook doesn’t really care about the revenue from ads around news content (although I expect most partners will take the 70% deal, if not now then later, because Facebook is better at selling ads). What Facebook wants is to deepen and strengthen its hold on users.

    In that sense, news content is just a means to an end. And the risk is that if it stops being an effective means to that end, then Facebook will lose interest in promoting it. But in the meantime, Facebook will have solidified its status as the default place where millions or possibly even billions of people go to get their news. In other words, it will still own the land, and who farms which specific patch of that land is irrelevant.

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