Facebook Just Lost a Big Battle to Google for Publishers

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An AMP article on Facebook.
An AMP article on Facebook. Credit: Courtesy of Facebook

Facebook hasn't lost the war against Google for publishers' content, but it looks like it's losing one fight.

The company said Thursday that it's created a software extension that lets publishers easily transfer content formatted for its Instant Articles to the No. 1 competition for mobile readers in a hurry, Google AMP.

AMP pages load near instantaneously, get prime real estate in Google search results, and have seen widespread adoption from both publishers and ecommerce players such as eBay and 1800Flowers. (Pages that load faster often lead to an uptick in sales.)

Unlike AMP pages, Instant Articles keep the user on Facebook. The benefit for publishers is that their content loads faster.

Publishers can sell ads in too, so in theory there's no loss of revenue opportunity. But Facebook's latest move underscores earlier reports that publishers have grown frustrated with the Instant Articles format.

The New York Times, for example, has completely pulled out from Instant Articles. The Guardian said last month that it was also dropping the format.

"The revenue in no way backed up the amount of time that was being spent on it," Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, previously told The Verge.

Google AMP, meanwhile, has seen success. Google said last week that there are more than 1.7 billion AMP pages on 860,000 domains, with 35 million new pages being created each week.

Facebook said it also plans to allow its extension to format Instant Articles to Apple News' offering in the near future. The company called the updates a "commitment to open standards of collaboration with the community."

That may be, but creating technology to convert content into AMP pages isn't revolutionary. Wordpress, for example, allowed anyone to create an AMP site by simply checking a box, and that feature came out more than a year ago.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the new extension was not a response to Google, and would have come even if Instant Articles was vastly outperforming AMP and Apple News.

"There are certainly some publishers seeing gaps in monetization and we are working to address those," the spokeswoman said. "We know Instant Articles is not working for some high-profile subscription based publishers in particular -- and we don't expect anyone to use IA if it's not working for them. But again, this open-source SDK extension is not about competing with Google or trying to lure back anyone who has left. It's about helping existing users as requested."

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