Digital Publishing Platforms
3 mins read

Facebook, here’s your chance to level the playing field

You’ll never find love and gratitude with the large publishers. So go niche.

Facebook’s efforts to support large publishers are largely wasted. It’s time to change direction and support digital-first media startups who need it more.

The Australian Parliament passed the contentious media bargaining code, but with amendments that will give Facebook a bit more elbow room. In exchange, Facebook will turn news back on in the country.

The tweaks:

  • The Treasurer must consider “designating” digital platforms like Facebook and Google and call out any imbalance over publishers
  • And if he does that, he’ll have to give them a 30-day notice period
  • After that, the platform needs, through mediation, to seal a deal with news businesses on how much to pay them for running their content
  • If that fails, it goes to an arbitrator who decides on the price

So both the government and Facebook have won themselves some flexibility. But it won’t be long before we’re back to debating FB’s original sin of disrupting the newspaper industry by giving advertisers a better option to reach customers and audiences. 

For now, it’s about finding the right price for that disruption guilt.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs, says the company will invest “at least” $1 billion in the global news industry over the next 3 years. That’s a stunning number that happens to match Google’s pledged investments into the industry.

Money aside (who knows where all those zeros will go), Clegg’s post is worth reading. It’s a forceful rebuttal of publishers in Australia and the fiasco over the Code, and something that he should have posted before all of this blew up. “It’s like forcing car makers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car — and letting the stations set the price.” 

(Nice analogy. Here’s mine: It’s like owning a restaurant, where you give out free food — and you pay your customers to eat it. The yummier it is, the more you pay.)

Now the real work begins.

Facebook needs to realise that its efforts to support large publishers over the past decade through grants or training hasn’t won it many friends. If it’s meant to extract PR and policy value, that effort appears wasted.

Instead, FB should double down on supporting the digital-first media startup community, which may not have the lobbying might that News Corp wields, but is overwhelmingly more appreciative of any kind of financial or training support. There’s just more gratitude in this community and we’ve seen it in the startup work we’ve done with Facebook in the past.

Both Facebook and Google need to move quickly to fix side deals with niche publishers who’ve been locked out and trampled on. 

Starts at 60, a niche publisher that services older Australians, makes a strong case, warning that failure to work with small publishers will see “yet more power in the hands of a few, privileged news providers, fewer independent publishers catering to non-mainstream audiences, less entrepreneurship in the Australian media market.” Worth reading.

According to some quick math from Crikey, 90% of Google’s Australia budget will go to News Corp, Seven West Media, and Nine.

Let’s hope that Facebook doesn’t follow Google.

Alan Soon
Co-Founder, Splice Media

Republished with kind permission of Splice: reporting on the transformation of media in Asia