Google and Facebook over the past year introduced tools to help publishers sell subscriptions on their platform, and so far publisher response to both efforts has been mixed.
Publishers contacted for this story praised the platforms for being communicative and committed to these products but also groused that the tools were cumbersome to implement and had limited returns.
“The people they’ve got on this are diligent, and they mean it,” said a source that’s used both platforms’ tools. “But I can’t tell my CEO we’re making meaningful progress.”
Facebook said early on, it averaged eight weeks for the participating publishers to integrate its tools, which let people subscribe to publications through Facebook’s fast-loading Instant Articles mobile format.
Many of the publishers that launched Subscribe with Google, meanwhile, still haven’t fully integrated its tools, according to Google. Part of the delay is that publishers have competing development and product priorities. But it’s also because the platforms’ tools are cumbersome. McClatchy had a 30-person person task force that spent three months getting the newspaper publisher’s 30 sites ready to integrate Subscribe with Google this spring. “That took some commitment,” said Dan Schaub, McClatchy’s corporate director of audience development, adding that he was pleased with the tests and the incremental improvement.
“No disrespect to Google, because it’s hard no matter what. But if I introduce ‘Subscribe with Google,’ my workload doubles,” said one source at a publisher that has experimented with both platforms’ tools. Google said it expected integration to take a long time since its tool is an end-to-end solution, but that it’s interested in integrating into third-party tools.
It’s hard for some publishers to shoulder this extra lift when the upside remains limited. Most publishers’ subscription signups happen on desktop (in part because publishers’ own mobile checkout experiences often are subpar), while Facebook and Google’s products focus on mobile devices.
Only 23 percent of media buyers say they exclusively buy ads.txt-approved inventory despite the high number of publishers who have incorporated the text file.
Facebook’s alpha test yielded a 17 percent average lift in subscriptions, which should be taken with a grain of salt because Facebook generated few subscriptions to begin with.
“Neither Instant Articles nor Subscribe with Google is moving the needle for any of the publishers I’ve spoken to,” said a source at one publisher that’s considered using the tools. “It’s all incremental.”
Facebook also wouldn’t give publishers user-level data of who was and wasn’t in its control group when testing its tool’s effectiveness. One publisher said that Facebook’s reports often seemed more positive than what the publisher observed. Facebook disputed the claim that there were wide disparities between the results observed by publisher and platform.
Many publishers contacted for this story said they were impressed by how the platforms adjusted their products to improve engagement and retention.