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Jonah Peretti Explains Why BuzzFeed Is Happy to Cut a (Theoretical) Deal With Facebook

Facebook's new publishing plan has the Internet in an uproar. NBD, says BuzzFeed's CEO.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

People who type things on the Internet have many reasons for publishers not to start running their stuff on Facebook. For instance:

  • Publishers will get a bad deal.
  • Publishers will get a deal that looks like a good deal but turns into a bad deal once Facebook has them in a compromised position.
  • Deal schmeal: Publishers who do this will lose their soul and/or their reason for being.

Maybe! But not everyone who publishes things on the Internet is a complete idiot. So perhaps people who publish things on the Internet will approach Facebook the way you might approach a strange dog, or a first date: Warily, eyes open, with the knowledge that this could work out badly — or that it might be good for both sides.

In any case, while there is much teeth-gnashing about the New York Times sidling up to Facebook, there is much less about BuzzFeed working with Facebook. In part that’s because BuzzFeed is BuzzFeed, not The Paper Of Record, at least for now. But it’s also because BuzzFeed has already been explicit about wanting to do exactly what Facebook wants it to do — put its stuff on sites it does not own.

First, a reminder of how we got to where we are. Last October, the late David Carr reported that Facebook was talking to publishers about having them “simply send pages to Facebook that would live inside the social network’s mobile app and be hosted by its servers; that way, they would load quickly with ads that Facebook sells.”

We didn’t hear much more than rumblings about those conversations after that, until last month, when Facebook product boss Chris Cox announced at our Code/Media conference that Facebook was indeed interested in hosting publishers’ stuff in a “container” within its mobile apps.

The logic, Cox said, was that doing so would make publishers’ stuff run better on phones: “Reading news on a smartphone is still a very bad experience most of the time. We want to try and make that a better experience for publishers.”

And Cox acknowledged that publishers would be wary about doing that, for all the obvious reasons listed at the top of this post. But he insisted that while Facebook wants to be a newspaper for its 1.3 billion users, it doesn’t want to replace newspapers, magazines and websites: “We don’t want to devour and suck in the Internet. It’s not what people are asking for.”

Now the Times tells us that it is close to a deal with Facebook, as are National Geographic and BuzzFeed. Cue the wailing.

But again, no wailing for BuzzFeed, because BuzzFeed and Facebook seem to be very much aligned here (not for the first time). Facebook says it can do a better job hosting publishers’ stuff than publishers can do on their own, and BuzzFeed says it doesn’t care where people read its stuff.

“Our goal is to really be agnostic about it,” BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti told me last week. “In an ideal world, we would be indifferent to where our content is consumed. We would want to do whatever is best for the consumer.”

This is an easier position to take, of course, when you are attracting 200 million readers a month, are coining money and are in the position to turn down giant acquisition deals from Disney. And it also helps when your business model isn’t dependent on ads you sell on your site, but on “native” ads that can live anywhere — and already live on platforms like Facebook.

But that’s where BuzzFeed is, so off it goes.

In any case, Peretti has a compelling take on all of this, which he conveniently laid out this month at South By Southwest. Many of you have watched this 12-minute interview (thank you!) but I’m reposting it anyway. If you’re in a hurry, head over to the last third, where I ask Peretti about the risk in handing his stuff over to other people’s platforms. My translation of his response: Are you kidding? There’s a ton of platforms out there, and they all want our stuff. We’re not gonna be another Zynga.

Maybe he’s right.

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