Finally, good news for the magazine industry: publishers have built a platform to sell subscriptions in the direct stream of Facebook's news feed. Nat Ives of AdvertisingAge reports that Synapse, Time Inc.'s subscriptions sales division, is collaborating with Alvenda, a company that builds e-commerce applications, to develop the purchasing system. Until now, publishers have used Facebook to direct traffic to their external websites and to engage fans in the social space. According to Ives, the new system will create a publishing arena for magazines within the confines of Facebook itself:
The system, which Alvenda expects to make live in July or August, will also allow Facebook users to expand those blurbs of magazine content that are now common in the news feed into full articles, complete with advertising -- again without leaving the news feed, much less Facebook itself.
Meghan Keene at Econsultancy anticipates the reaction amongst publishers looking for new online models for advertising:
That is sure to get publishers excited. And though news feed purchases actually have more potential for other sectors on Facebook, there is something interesting about this impending feature -- the ads. And the fact that Facebook isn't taking a cut of the profits.
Facebook's tolerance of a subscription platform for magazines may be a harbinger of a new model of online publishing and ad sales based on increased collaboration between social media portals and content-driven news sites. In the past several years, publishers have primarily sought to leverage social media tools like Facebook and Twitter for the purposes of brand awareness and user engagement. The logic is simple: extending a magazine's brand into the social space creates the potential for earned impressions. An interesting hook retweeted by a Twitter user is public and easily passed along, and a shared Washington Post story broadcasts content across one's social network, increasing the Post brand's visibility to users who might not have engaged with it on their own.
The problem with brand-based social media marketing is that the monetary benefits are usually secondary. Media companies do not derive significant ad revenue from Facebook or Twitter-based ads, depending instead on the residual impressions to catalyze upticks in traffic to the original sites. Even social news sites like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon, which often provide tremendous numbers of page views, have no direct revenue-generating power in themselves; they can only direct users back to content comfortably ringed by ads on a given page.
Synapse's new system presents the unique opportunity for publishers to generate real revenues by beaming ads right to readers' news feeds. "News feed purchases have a wide potential on Facebook," notes Keene. "Facebook had 450 million users in April. If those users can purchase items in their news feed as easily as they can purchase Farmville points, there's no telling how many conversions Facebook could offer."
Facebook's programming environment is irritatingly complicated and requires developers to be fluent in the company's programming language. The new synapse system looks to be not only easier, but infinitely more flexible. "This is a smart marketing move for magazines, and one I suspect will have much more success monetizing digital magazine content than simply developing versions for the iPad," writes Lauren Indvik at Mashable. "I'm also interested to see how publishers of other types of media, like traditional books and news, will emulate this model."
In this month's Atlantic cover story, James Fallows shows how Google is working with reporters, editors, and publishers to save conventional news outlets with increased engagement and new ad models. Facebook's new subscription scheme provides the opportunity for publishers to situate ads on Facebook itself, representing what may be the first steps toward a deeper, mutually-beneficial relationship between social media and publishing.