While Facebook regards Instant Articles a success, a report in the Columbia Journalism Review suggests that, of the initial batch of publishers signed-up in 2015, fewer than half are still using the platform.
Facebook’s Instant Articles was launched on May 12, 2015; the objective was to deliver faster page load times for mobile users and it promised load times 10x faster than traditional, responsive mobile pages.
It was initially open to a select group of 9 publishers, including The BBC, The Washington Post and The New York Times – this was later expanded in October of 2015 to 72 publishers.
The platform gives advertisers the opportunity to sell advertising space direct or to monetize their content via Facebook’s Audience Network.
Since the development of Instant Articles, Google has also launched a competing service called Accelerated Mobile Pages (which has also come under intense criticism from users and journalists).
Early adopters leave the platform
The Columbia Journalism Review analysed 2,308 links on these publisher’s Facebook pages and failed to identify a single link to an Instant Article from 38 of the 72 early adopters.
The report highlights a number of potential causes behind publishers’ failure to maintain a presence on the platform, however an article from Digiday states the primary concerns seems to be the same as what publishers have expressed about AMP: monetization and control.
Dan Check, vice Chairman of Slate, told Digday earlier this year that “If IA monetization doesn’t dramatically improve, high quality publishers will continue to pull out”. Some, including Simon Haynes, Digital Director at Northern & Shell, have ceased publishing due to concerns about diluting existing Facebook referrals.
Publishers also seem bemused with the sheer weight of options they now have to contend with, as both IA and AMP require different technical solution – AMP alone is based on a modified HTML specification that was developed by Google, and it’s yet one more code base their in-house development teams have to assist with.
It perhaps signals back to the days of old, when publishers quickly realised the difficulties inherent in maintaining separate websites for mobile and desktop users.
While a number of the largest media publishers online appear to have abandoned the platform, this hasn’t stopped Facebook from declaring the success of IA. In June 2017 it reported Instant Articles drives 20 – 50% more traffic “compared to mobile web content” and that over 10,000 publishers now use the platform.