On Tuesday, March 16th, the news broke that Facebook plans to launch a platform for writers to publish content and earn income through monetization tools such as subscriptions. Here’s how Engadget summed up Facebook’s initial offering:
“It’s reportedly a free-to-use system that will tie in with Pages, letting you publish live videos, Stories and other material that goes beyond articles and newsletters. You can create Groups and check stats on your work, too. And yes, there will eventually be ways to earn money from your writing, such as subscriptions and ‘possibly other forms’ of income. Facebook is paying the test group to help get the tools started, according to the tipsters.”J. Fingas/Engadget
Apparently the offering is meant to be an addition to Facebook’s Journalism Project. As such, it appears to be aimed at journalists and writers of short fiction/non-fiction rather than book publishers. There’s also a good possibility that this project is an attempt to draw users away from rivals like Substack, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
As an author, blogger, and longtime Facebook user, I have some thoughts about the potential of Facebook Publishing.
Based on Facebook’s history, I’m skeptical that this will be good for anyone other than Facebook. Consider the platform’s record of pushing and then deboosting various options for connecting with readers and fans. What’s to stop them from phasing out or deboosting this project when its initial shine wears off? As a creator, why would I put that kind of energy into building on a platform that might be metaphorically yanked out from under me at any time?
Pages used to be a great way to connect with fans. Now it’s a viral post if even 10% your page fans see it. Posts on my little Facebook page went from garnering thousands of views each to just ten or twenty. Lately many posts’ views are in the single digits. Readers have complained that they want to see my content, but my page just doesn’t show up in their newsfeed.
I’m beginning to hear group admins say that the same thing is happening to their groups. As such, it’s rather laughable that Facebook is offering integration with Pages and Groups as a benefit to working with Facebook Publishing. Are they pushing users to rely more heavily on the same demonstrably broken tools? Or are they implying that posts shared from within Facebook’s own ecosystem won’t be as heavily deboosted as external links?
Of course, no discussion of the slow, lingering death of pages and the wane of groups would be complete without mentioning Facebook Advertising. Want your old reach back? Allegedly you can have it– if you’re willing to pay handsomely for it. Facebook Advertising regularly offers to help boost my posts, but for myself and many others, the return on investment just isn’t there.
While the Facebook Publishing platform will allegedly start out free-to-use, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it turn into something creators must pay to continue using. I’d also be surprised if Facebook doesn’t take a cut of subscriber revenues, along the lines of established content delivery platforms like Patreon or Amazon KDP.
Then there’s the capriciously unreliable nature of Facebook itself. I’ve been blocked from posting for introducing myself in a group. I’ve been penalized for, as best I can tell, sharing a post from another page where the other page hadn’t correctly attributed the photographer. I know people who have been locked out of their accounts, or lost their accounts altogether, without access to redress and with no reason given. (Not even a vague “Something you posted violated our community standards.”)
Then there’s Facebook’s documented policy of favoring certain types of news over others. Obviously that makes it a less-than-ideal platform for journalism. In fact, it makes it a less-than-ideal platform for any kind of serious money-making endeavor. Do I really want my revenue stream, or even just a portion of it, to depend on an unreliably moderated platform with a documented lack of integrity?
At best, Facebook Publishing is a weak offering and a late entry into the indie micro-publishing market. At worst, it’s yet another of the company’s lackluster attempts to reinvigorate a dying social media platform. Either way, independent content creators’ efforts are probably best spent elsewhere.
If you’re curious about the platform, have the spare time, and don’t mind the possibility of seeing your Facebook revenue vanish at some point in the near future, there’s no reason why you couldn’t make your subscription content available via Facebook as well as via the platforms you already use. (Provided Facebook Publishing’s TOS doesn’t forbid that.)
That said, this offering will probably be most effective for journalists and bloggers who already have a large and well-established following on Facebook. It goes without saying that the ability to gain subscribers will be dependent on your reach. If you don’t already have that (or really deep pockets), Facebook Publishing is unlikely to be particularly beneficial to you.
Thomas Umstattd Jr. wrote a lengthy but insightful article about Facebook’s evolution as it pertains to authors trying to build a following and market their work, and why Facebook isn’t a good place to build an author platform. The article is titled What the 2021 Facebook Changes Mean for Authors, and I definitely recommend giving it a read.
I also recommend checking out Zachry Wheeler’s No, I’m Not on Facebook (And No Author Should Be). He gives many good reasons to at least limit the time and energy you spend on Facebook, if not quit the platform altogether.
Although not directly author related, I’ve written about some of Facebook’s rather dystopian tendencies before. In Facebook Is Watching You… For Your Own Good, I wrote about Facebook’s suicide detection AI, and how it seemed more like damage control than a genuine interest in users’ well-being.
In Facebook: Biased Purveyor of Political Misinformation? I covered the news that when Facebook tweaked its newsfeed algorithm in 2017 to reduce the visibility of political news, the company’s engineers intentionally designed the system to disproportionately impact left-leaning news outlets. The article discusses how those changes have impacted users, how the news affects Facebook’s ongoing viability as a platform, and what users can do about it.