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Independent digital chief: Apple News drives traffic not revenue but Facebook instant articles is ‘important source of ad sales’

By Freddy Mayhew

Apple News “doesn’t drive real revenue, but does drive traffic” while Facebook is an “important form of advertising sales”, according to the digital managing director for the Independent and Evening Standard.

Zach Leonard told Press Gazette that he is keeping a “watching brief” on Apple News – a pre-installed mobile and tablet app that aggregates news content on iPhones and iPads from contributing publishers.

He said the ability to sell advertising into Apple News was “valuable” and that it was a “brilliant marketing device” for content, but added: “In my view they are a technology company first and are taking advantage of such a high penetration of users through smartphones and tablets.”

He said: “Apple News doesn’t drive real revenue, but does drive traffic. From that vantage point we are keeping a watching brief on how useful it is for us. At the moment [our view on] it is neutral to positive because of the distribution and the marketing value of it for us.”

Leonard said Facebook, however, provided “an important form of [third party] advertising sales” for ESI Media (owners of the Independent and Evening Standard), that was “much stronger” than “some of the historic third party partnerships we might have”.

He said the company had been “working very closely with Facebook for the last seven or eight years here in the UK market”, but recognised the platform had “effectively two things to offer us”.

“One is traditional posts through our accounts – those are short posts which then link people back to our site – and a significant amount of traffic comes to us that way.

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“[The other is] Facebook Instant Articles, which are consumed within Facebook and there are a few more pages to click through before you come to us. This is monetised through advertising sold to Facebook, and we share in that.”

Leonard said the publisher keeps the “majority of the revenue” from Facebook Instant Articles created using Independent or Evening Standard news content.

He said: “It’s wonderful way to get our brand out there and distribute our journalism but also to be very fairly compensated for that,” but added: “It isn’t without its challenges, obviously.

“We can sell directly on to our own media channels and create environments that are better for brands, but these platforms are so much larger than any individual publisher can be that it makes good sense to leverage what we can with that.”

Press Gazette is campaigning for Facebook and Google to “stop destroying journalism” and pay news publishers a fair share of the advertising revenue it derives from sharing their content.

Leonard said Facebook had “rewarded good content providers like us” but agreed the social media giant had an “important responsibility in containment of fake news”.

He said: “I can see the argument that it’s a blind endorsement having a third party post your content and make money off of it is chipping away at what we as a traditional publisher do.

“But I think that so long as we recognise their social reach is massive and their technology is astounding… it makes sense to do business with them, but keep our eyes open during that process.”

Asked if he was worried Facebook and Google would continue taking advertising revenue from digital publishers – The Independent has been a digital-only for a year now – Leonard said: “I don’t worry about that, because if we did we would all go mad.

“They do different quite beneficial things for us. Google still drives traffic to us through searches. Yes they have a very significant if not dominant position in what we do, but we have to work with that.”

The Independent now employs more than 100 journalists.

The Guardian has stopped allowing its content on both Facebook Instant Articles and Appeal News because of concerns over the amount of revenue it was getting.

Picture: Pixabay

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