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Facebook wants to help news publishers sell subscriptions, but says it doesn’t want a cut of the revenue

Mark Zuckerberg says he doesn’t want publishers’ data, either.

New York Times To Reduce Size Of Newspaper Michael Brown / Getty
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.

Facebook says it wants to help publishers sell subscriptions. But Facebook says it doesn’t want a piece of the revenue those subscriptions generate, or any of the data involved in the transaction.

Those details are emerging as Facebook talks to publishers about a subscription tool it wants to launch later this year, in conjunction with its Instant Articles program, where Facebook hosts publishers’ articles on its own mobile app.

Industry sources say that instead of operating a subscription service itself, Facebook plans on creating a paywall it would implement after non-subscribers view 10 articles a month from a particular publisher.

When users hit the 10-article limit, Facebook plans on sending users to that publisher’s site to sign up for a subscription.

Campbell Brown, the news veteran Facebook hired earlier this year as its emissary to publishers, confirmed some of Facebook’s plans via a statement: “Quality journalism costs money to produce, and we want to make sure it can thrive on Facebook. As part of our test to allow publishers in Instant Articles to implement a paywall, they will link to their own websites to process subscriptions and keep 100% of the revenue.”

Facebook’s hands-off approach to subscriptions is an evolution from earlier plans, including one to bundle multiple publications into a single subscription offering.

It also distinguishes the company from other big platforms, notably Apple, which sells digital subscriptions through its App store and its Apple News feature but takes up to 30 percent of the monthly revenue from those transactions. Apple also gets direct access to subscriber data when that happens.

Facebook’s paywall plans are part of its ongoing effort to address publishers’ complaints about the way the company uses their work, and what kind of compensation they get in return.

In January, the company launched a Facebook Journalism Project, which so far has amounted to a very long listening tour to hear publishers’ complaints/requests; when the paywall feature rolls out, it will be one of the more concrete results of Facebook’s efforts.

The subscription feature is also coming as some publishers are calling on government regulators for help gaining leverage with Facebook.

Earlier this month, a news publishers’ trade group that includes the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post started asking U.S. lawmakers for an antitrust exemption, so that they could bargain collectively for better terms with Facebook and Google.

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