Facebook debuted a newsletter subscription service Tuesday, an attempt to court influential writers to its platform as more creators branch out from traditional publications and go independent.
Facebook spent months recruiting dozens of authors across several areas — including sports, entertainment, science, and health — and paying them upfront to bring their readers to Facebook’s platform to kick-start the service, dubbed Bulletin.
New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, author Mitch Albom, and organizational psychologist Adam Grant are among the contributors. Facebook intends to extend the program and partner with more writers in the future, including local news reporters.
“The goal here is to support millions of people doing creative work,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a conference call with reporters. “More and more independent writers are discovering ways to use their voice and make money through other avenues, similar to the ones we’re introducing here.”
Bulletin members can send their writing to subscribers via email, leveraging the vast reach of Facebook’s platform to grow their personal followings. Zuckerberg also stated that he wants Bulletin to be a place for journalists to promote their podcasts and audio projects, ideally using Facebook’s recently launched audio tools.
The new service is part of a broader media industry-wide newsletter revival. Despite the fact that newsletters are not new, the recent emergence of newsletter-focused businesses such as Substack and Revue has reignited interest in the format. To attract and maintain readers, mainstream publishers such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times are experimenting with newsletter programs.
Zuckerberg has long stated that Facebook is about “giving everyone a voice,” and he has closely followed the emergence of startups like Substack, which provides individuals with the tools and payment infrastructure they need to build and grow their email newsletter followings.
Zuckerberg asked lieutenants to look into establishing a competitor product after watching Substack’s growth and progress. Twitter, too, sees value in newsletters, and in January purchased Revue.
Facebook is luring writers by not collecting a percentage of any subscription payments at launch. Substack takes a 10% cut, whereas Revue gets a 5% cut. In the future, Facebook has not stated when or how much it would tax creators.
Initially, bulletin articles and podcasts will be available on individual creator publication pages, the Facebook News Feed, and the Facebook News tab.
Facebook’s news and journalism collaborations have a poor track record. The social media giant inked a series of content partnerships in 2016 that paid news organizations, including The New York Times, to stream live footage on Facebook, but it eventually backtracked.
Facebook has already courted publishers to create video shows for its platform. It also scaled back that endeavor, putting some of the media companies that had committed to it in jeopardy. Mic, a once-famous media company, shut down after placing a large bet on Facebook-funded video shows.
To allay fears and lure new talent, Zuckerberg stated that writers will retain their work and email subscriber lists, allowing them to pick up and move to other platforms as needed.
“The best creators are going to go to the platforms that give them the best tools that help them build the best businesses and ultimately that give them the most freedom,” Zuckerberg said.