Facebook stops putting news in front of readers, what now?

For publishers who have come to rely on traffic from Facebook — which for some still drives the majority of their traffic; for many others, 30 or 40 percent — this is awful news. It’s especially bad for those who have made a “pivot to video” (which was always really a pivot to Facebook), praying that some alchemy would soon turn a gazillion autoplay video views into money, underpants-gnome style.

So what will be the impact of the world’s largest real-time distributor of news deciding it’s not so into news any more? With the caveat that we don’t really know what the scale of the impact will be — is this a 5 percent tweak or a 50 percent catastrophe? — here are a few thoughts.

This is better news for traditional news brands than for digital-native ones. Grudgingly, most American daily newspapers of any size have come around to the idea that they’ll need to get more of their money from readers — in the form of subscriptions or memberships — than from advertisers. Any publisher with any kind of meaningful cost structure whose revenue strategy relies solely or even primarily on bulk digital advertising was already screwed; this will make that more clear more quickly.

People have been predicting a major culling of that space for a while now, and we started to see it in late 2017 with the Mashable fire sale and missed numbers at BuzzFeed and Vice. Facebook’s move is going to accelerate that substantially. There are a lot of digital publishers seeking another round of venture funding right now who’ll face an even more skeptical set of questions about their pitches.

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