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Dow Jones chief warns media orgs about getting cozy with Facebook and Apple

Facebook F8 Developers ConferenceFacebook F8 Developers Conference
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief executive officer of Facebook Inc., gives a keynote address at the annual F8 developer conference in San Francisco, California on April 21, 2010. Photograph by Kim White — Bloomberg via Getty Images

After dipping their toes in the water with Facebook’s new “Instant Articles” mobile offer last month, several of the social network’s media partners are planning to dive in head-first this week—publishing as many as 30 articles a day through the new feature, in the case of the New York Times. But Dow Jones CEO Will Lewis says his colleagues should be careful about putting their content into walled gardens like Facebook.

During a panel discussion at the Cannes Lions advertising confab in France, Lewis said that news publishers need to be wary of offers from companies like Facebook (FB) and Apple (AAPL)—which recently announced its own media offering, a News app that will be curated by human editors—and Snapchat, which has a platform called Discover. Handing over content means a loss of control, Lewis said.

“The issue for us, and I think the broader industry, is do we run headless chicken-like towards offers from companies like Apple and Facebook to put our content in their walled gardens? Or do we pause and think together about what the most appropriate way of dealing with these opportunities are and make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past?”

One of the considerations for companies like Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, is that services like Instant Articles and Apple’s News app don’t necessarily help media entities that have a paywall, Lewis said. Dow Jones is in discussions with Apple, Facebook and Snapchat about potential partnerships, the CEO said, but “advertising is not going to be enough.”

Some of these platform companies have indicated that they are willing to incorporate subscription models into their services, Lewis said, and “those that do that, we are probably more likely to play with.” Flipboard, a news-curation and aggregation app that many see as the inspiration behind Apple’s News app, has deals with a number of subscription-based publishers such as the Wall Street Journal to support their paywall plans within the app, and Facebook is said to be working on doing so.

The issue for Dow Jones and the New York Times is that they have their own walled gardens, thanks to their paywall models, and handing over content to Apple or Facebook means they are essentially competing with themselves. NYT chief executive Mark Thompson appears to have decided that the experiment is worth it, if the paper can appeal to new readers who might eventually want to pay. But will they? By using Facebook, they can get 30 articles for free every day. For many, that might be more than enough.

As Frederic Filloux at The Monday Note and others have pointed out, media companies like Dow Jones and the New York Times are at a historic crossroads: They no longer control the distribution channels that readers use to get their news and other content, and so they are having to cozy up to Facebook and Twitter and Snapchat and Apple, the new distribution engines for media. But doing so comes at a price. Who ultimately benefits from these partnerships, the media outlets or the platform?