Are publishers over-reliant on Facebook?

The internet giant's 'walled garden approach' towards basic demographic data of users is not sitting well with publishers

e4m by Abhinn Shreshtha
Updated: Nov 18, 2014 8:08 AM
Are publishers over-reliant on Facebook?

Publishers seem welcoming of Facebook Atlas, considering it good to have multiple options. However, there seems to be an underlying thread of worry that they might be becoming too dependent on the social platform to drive traffic to their website.

“As per guidelines shared by Facebook, we soon won't be able to extract basic profile information for a large set of users, i.e., the additional data we use to get from FB about our users will not be available,” said Swapnil Shrivastav, VP (Ad Tech) of Times Internet. This walled garden approach, he says is also something happening across the Google Display Network (GDN) with third party tracking no longer going live. This means,  publishers do not receive demographic data like gender and age.

“If they are building a database using our data, it also needs to be shared with us,” seems to be the opinion as expressed by Manan Kotak, Digital Head and Partner at Chitralekha.

The problem though is that for the likes of Facebook, data is manna from heaven; especially with the launch of Atlas and Facebook’s plans to move beyond its own garden and provide advertisers means to target audiences across the internet. For publishers, the fear could be that they are depending too much on one platform for driving traffic. For example, Facebook is estimated to drive 30-50% of the traffic to publishers according to Preetham Venkky, Head of Digital Strategy & Business at KRDS Asia.

“We see no harm in deriving traffic from giants like Facebook and Google. Any publisher’s aim is to attract and reach the right target audience. Chitralekha’s Facebook page has over 7.30 lakh followers—it has not only helped us to tap a new audience for our content, but has also boosted traffic to our website. Any platform that helps you reach the right audience is welcome,” said Kotak. However, he pointed out that having to spend on Facebook Ads to attract audience and then spending again to boost posts (organic reach on Facebook is almost nil these days) is unfair. “We have built our network on the basis of our content and hard work and we deserve more control over what our fans see. A little more transparency would help,” he added.

The free ride is over on Facebook

With programmatic trading another factor in the picture, publishers are coming to the stage when they have to make a major decision, says Srivastava. “Should we make our own walled gardens? If in the next two years we are going to have walled gardens everywhere on the internet, maybe we should consider this too,” he said. It is a thought that Kotak agreed might have to be considered. “Right now, even if share ad revenue with the likes of AdSense and others, the rates are fair but if we come to a situation where things are forced upon us, we might have to consider this approach,” he said.

"But can Indian Publishers successfully build their own networks? This is something that Lavin Punjabi, President of Affinity sees as something of a problem. "Publishers have valuable data, but can they work together? Their ego might create a problem. There will also be the question about who will take the initiative and who will put in the money. They need to have an alliance and they need to take their data seriously.” When asked about his thoughts on publisher’s peeve that Facebook is not sharing data back with them, he said, “Facebook already has a lot of data of their own. They are just using the third party publisher data to enhance their own data.”

Meanwhile, Venkky feels  that publishers need to accept the fact that things on Facebook are no longer going to be free. “Publishers are getting traffic in return for sharing their data, are they not? And why should Facebook share demographic data with anyone outside the company? It is their gold mine. Even if eventually ad revenues will have to be shared with Facebook, they will get more traffic in return.”

To talks of publishers forming their own networks, Venkky was dismissive. “It is a knee-jerk reaction that was bound to happen but I don’t think it will work. Being stakeholders in a product that is not your own is tricky business,” he added.

To add to the fears are rumours and media reports that Facebook might be considering asking publishers to host their links on its servers. The idea behind this being that most publishers do not have mobile optimised websites or apps, causing a drop in user experience on the mobile, especially if you consider programmatic ads which needed to be loaded. Facebook, it is rumoured, feels letting users view links from within its own app will take care of this issue. Problem is, if this is true,  it could mean Facebook will want publishers to share ad revenues with it.

How real is this threat? Ratish Nair, Co-founder of Ad Magnet, says, “From a publisher’s point of view, it is important to see whether there is enough value for a person to keep coming back. Publishers powerful enough to get traffic will be able to attract advertisers on their own and do not need to worry.” He gave the example of that runs no Google ads but still manages to sell out inventory. “It is up to the publisher to keep creating value for the audience,” he said.

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