Data, learnings, $$$

Best thing from the Facebook Instant Articles story, for me, was that I discovered this interview with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, from re/code.

In it, Peretti explains how the company thinks about online publishing and making money. (Which BuzzFeed does: the company was valued at $850 million, based on earnings of around $120 million for 2014 alone.)

How does BuzzFeed make money? They make content, learn what works, then use that knowledge to make ads. Not bad ads, not informercials. BuzzFeed makes the best ads there are: an article or video you’ll want to read and share. The brand might not even have to get mentioned – that’s how good an ad it will be. Example 1, example 2. (Via. BuzzFeed’s so good, I had trouble finding examples.)

Eyeballs follow content

BuzzFeed gave up on the idea of the website as the destination as of March 2015. BuzzFeed officially no longer cares where people view their articles. Because they’re not in the business of selling eyeballs to advertisers. And yet, BuzzFeed makes money regardless.

This in itself will sound revolutionary to some publishers. A lot of publishers think online publishing is about pageviews, literally people looking at your webpage. Strange idea, really: People never bought a newspaper because it was made of paper. People bought a newspaper because of the articles in it. If those articles were printed on a cow, they’d read cows. Likewise, people don’t come to your site because it is a website. People visit a website because there’s content on it.

Still, this is how a lot of publishers think: people visit websites. And if you think people visit your website, you’ll also want to make money off that website. You’ll show banners, next to the content. Then suddenly it becomes important where visitors view your content. Because your webpage is the only place you have control over what ads are shown.

If this is your model, Facebook Instant Articles may seem like a threat. (Kind of: Facebook will still pay you a share of any money they make off your content.)

As BuzzFeed figured out early on, however, online publishing was never about pageviews. People don’t ‘visit sites’ for fun. People want an interesting read, or a well-produced video, never mind where. Online publishing is about getting people to look at your content. Never mind where they read it. So to BuzzFeed, Facebook Instant Articles looks like a giant opportunity.

Data first, learnings second, money last

Why do people read your content? Why was it shared? Once you figure out how to capture people’s attention in a sustainable way, you can sell that knowledge. That’s what BuzzFeed sells to advertisers.

So it’s only natural BuzzFeed would care so much about this form of knowledge, that they named it 1 of the 2 essential resources they get from publishing content. Below is BuzzFeeds own illustration of their business model. Content out, money and data in. It’s not advertisers: it’s through continuous learning that BuzzFeed makes money.

I love that they actually made an infographic to share this insight with their writers:

Data, learnings, money.
Data, learnings, money. Picture: BuzzFeed