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.
To jump-start the Bulletin service, Facebook spent months recruiting dozens of writers across different categories — including sports, entertainment, science, and health — paying them upfront to bring their readers to Facebook’s platform. The writers include New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, author Mitch Albom and organizational psychologist Adam Grant. Facebook plans to expand the program and partner with more writers over time, including those focusing on local news.
“The goal here is to support millions of people doing creative work,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said 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.”
Those who are part of Bulletin can share their writing over email to subscribers, using the vast reach of Facebook’s platform to build their personal followings. Zuckerberg also wants Bulletin to be a place for journalists to promote their podcasts and audio projects, ideally using Facebook’s recently introduced audio tools.
The new service is part of a newsletter revival across the media industry. Although newsletters are not new, the recent growth of newsletter-focused startups like Substack and Revue has renewed interest in the form. Mainstream publishers like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times also experimented with newsletter products to attract and retain readers.
Zuckerberg has long said that Facebook is for “giving everyone a voice,” and he has closely watched the rise of upstarts like Substack, which gives individuals the tools and payments infrastructure to build and grow their followings through email newsletters.
After monitoring Substack’s growth and progress, Zuckerberg ordered lieutenants to look into building a competing product earlier this year, The Times has reported. Twitter, too, sees opportunity in newsletters and bought Revue in January.
Facebook is courting writers by not taking a cut of any subscription fees at launch, the company said. Substack takes 10 percent, and Revue takes 5 percent. Facebook has not said when or what it will charge creators in the future.
Bulletin articles and podcasts will initially be available on individual creator publication pages, across the Facebook News Feed and within the News tab section of Facebook.
Facebook has a shaky history of news and journalistic partnerships. In 2016, the social network struck a series of content deals that paid news organizations — including The Times — to broadcast live videos on Facebook, but it later backpedaled on the initiative.
Facebook also previously made overtures to publishers to produce video shows for its site. It dialed that effort back, too, leaving some media organizations that had committed to the effort in dire straits. Mic, a once-buzzy media startup, closed after betting big on Facebook-funded video shows.
To assuage concerns and entice new talent, Zuckerberg said writers would own their content and email subscriber lists, allowing them to pick up and go to other platforms if they wish to do so.
“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,” he said.