Amidst Growing Concerns Over Instant Articles Facebook Launches It In India With 5 Publishers

Starting today Facebook Android users in India will be able to browse content from 5 local publishers - India Today, The Quint, Aaj Tak, HT & The Indian Express.

India is the second biggest market for Facebook after US. But things have not gone the way CEO Mark Zuckerberg would have wished. Numbers have been growing but the negative and legitimate coverage of in India has really hit the plans rock bottom for Facebook. Right at a time when Facebook aims to provide Internet connectivity to more than 4 billion people who are not yet online globally. India plays a big role in this vision as it goes through a digital evolution.

At the same time amidst concerns Facebook has announced that starting today users of Android smartphones in India will be able to browse crisp, feature-rich content from five local publishers through the Instant Articles feature on their Facebook app.

These five publishers are India Today, The Quint, Aaj Tak, Hindustan Times and The Indian Express. From early next year Facebook hopes to open the platform for other publishers. Instant Articles content will appear within the news feed itself, and needs no app update.

Earlier this year, Facebook launched Instant Articles, a new product for publishers to create fast, interactive articles on Facebook. Instant Articles debuted with rich-media stories from The New York Times, BuzzFeed, National Geographic, and six other outlets that will be globally visible from Facebook’s iPhone app.

During the time of launch Facebook promised that Instant Articles will not feature a stripped down textual dump but come with additional features stuffed by Facebook. From having a logo on the top of every story, publishers had a “follow” button that users can click to subscribe to their Facebook page and get more stories. The body of the story can contain photos, image galleries, and videos, and publishers can use a web view to embed objects like tweets and interactive graphics.

Beyond just loading faster, Facebook will parse HTML and RSS to display articles with fonts, layouts, and formats that make Instant Articles feel like a publisher’s website. Facebook is also providing vivid media options like embedding zoomable photos, videos, and maps with audio captions, plus contextual ‘Ambient Videos’.

All this added with preferential treatment to publishers when users click, like, comment, and share Instant Articles more often than others, they may show up higher and more frequently in feed like any piece of popular content. Publishers can also sell ads in their articles and keep the revenue, or they can choose to use Facebook’s Audience Network to monetize unsold inventory.

Just last month Instant Articles feature was rolled out to all iPhone users. For the Indian market the roll out is happening over Android for obvious reasons.“We are launching in India on Android as the country is a heavy Android user market. Besides, Android is designed to be fast; so articles load quickly on Android and thus can be quickly read,” informed Michael Reckhow, product manager for Instant Articles to LiveMint.

This might be good news for large Indian publishing houses as most of their readers are consuming content over Facebook through their smartphones. Besides Instant Articles will also allow Indian publishers to use a lot of immersive storytelling tools with help from Facebook that will result in engaging and interactive content.

Today Facebook is visited by more than a billion users, so why would any publisher say no to such a lucrative deal? To further lure publishers, Facebook tweaked the News Feed. Facebook added time spent, after its research showed that people don’t always like or comment on stories that they find meaningful.

But Facebook’s Instant Article isn’t performing the way publishers would have expected. Publishers including The Washington Post, New York Times and are finding it difficult to extract as much revenue per article from Instant Articles as they do from pages on their own websites, according to The Wall Street Journal.

One of the reasons publishers have listed is due to the strict guidelines Facebook has laid down on the type and volume of ads publishers are allowed to sell. In its defense, Facebook is said to be working with publishers on their concerns.

This isn’t the first time publishers have shown concern for the walled garden approach of Facebook. But then the ad-blocking menace has left publishers with no choices. They have no choice other than experiment and get used to the dominance of today’s publishers – the social networks.

While ad-blocking problem is still not a grave problem in India but there would be takers of Instant Articles since data connectivity is a problem. Facebook understands the mobile world of emerging markets and there are good chances of Instant Articles being a success in India.

That being said Instant Articles is leaving no choice for publishers: either say yes to its dichotomy or get ready to let go referral traffic that Facebook has been giving to your website for free. Read also: How Facebook & LinkedIn Are Quietly Slashing Referral Traffic Hurting Publishers