December was a rough month for famous men, according to my Facebook feed. We lost Bruce Willis, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood, Tiger Woods, and Denzel Washington.
Plus, Steve Martin, Chuck Norris, Bill Cosby and Hugh Hefner committed suicide.
Lucky for me, I’m in the publishing industry, so I know not to accept anything from Facebook at face value.
Many of my colleagues learned that lesson the hard way last year, after starting off 2016 thinking that Facebook was the path to publishing riches. Their traffic from Facebook was booming, and thanks to Facebook Instant Articles program they could make money by publishing articles directly on Facebook.
Those death notices (“Clint is gone – After the rumors were confirmed true . . .”) aren’t the only Facebook fakeries. And we’re not just talking about out-of-date photos and other harmless profile enhancements. (The boobs on that friend you haven’t seen since high school? Totally fake. You would have remembered if they had looked like that. And if they had looked like that back then, imagine what gravity would have done to them by now.)
But the word deserves even better than that. Because "Fakebook" encapsulates several key trends – the continuing failures of digital advertising, a strategy pivot by publishers, and even the persistence of print magazines – I hereby declare it The Publishing Word of 2016.
Not dead yet
Let’s take a look at those fake obits, if you dare. They all linked to alleged articles, purportedly from well-known publishers, describing how the actually-not-dead celebrity overcame erectile dysfunction thanks to Advanced Alpha Testosterone Booster.
AATB contains Horny Goat Weed and other natural remedies and is endorsed by everyone’s favorite TV quack, Dr. Oz – so how could you go wrong?
|I swear I did not distort this "no-bit."|
The Bruce Willis obit (or is it a no-bit?) links to a supposed AARP interview (below) in which Willis’ wife describes how AATB perked up the couple’s sex life by bringing about Bruce’s miraculous resur-erection. (Hallelujah!) The fake article is surrounded by stuff copied from AARP’s web site (without the links) and even a copycat web address (aarp.com-newssource.net).
But I call the attention of my publishing friends to that page’s “Featured in” list of mostly legacy-media trademarks, including four magazines, that are thoroughly abused in an attempt to give AATB a whiff of respectability.
Here’s the lesson: Even a sleazy seller of snake oil (Yeah, that’s unfair: Snakes don’t obsess about erectile dysfunction.) understands the credibility that’s still associated with magazine media – perhaps better than the publishers of those magazines.
I think 2016 was the year publishers finally started getting the picture – when they accepted that they could never thrive simply by getting more page views for highly commoditized ads paying ever-decreasing CPMs. No publisher has the scale to out-Facebook Facebook or to survive on bottom-feeder ads.
Instead, consumer publishers are increasingly acting like the best B2B publishers, focusing on leveraging their reputations and their superior content to build engaged audiences that are attractive to premium advertisers. They are pursuing the kind of advertisers (and CPMs) that are increasingly turned off by Fakebook’s fakeries.
The native-advertising boom is especially beneficial to premium publishers that have solid reputations, providing a welcome escape from ad blocking and banner blindness.
|Taboola on TheAtlantic.com|
Considering how bad 2016 apparently was for print advertising, relatively few magazines were shut down. No more are publishers planning the imminent demise of their magazines; instead, there’s more sharing of resources with the digital side and more recognition that being associated with a magazine differentiates a web site from the likes of Fakebook.
Sure, many magazine (and newspaper) companies sullied their credibility in the past year or so by jumping on the “recommendation engine” bandwagon, accepting money to post little turds of clickbait from networks like Outbrain, Taboola, and Revcontent.
|Say what? Outbrain on washingtonpost.com|
However, there’s good news on that front: I recently revisited the magazine-publishers’ sites I studied nine months ago for a Publishing Executive article on recommendation engines and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw – and what I didn’t see. Some publishers have toned down the sleaze and scaled back their use of recommendation engines, while others have kicked the clickbait habit altogether.
I’ll leave you with a few questions:
- Have all of Facebook’s significant reporting errors been revealed? Or will more dirt surface during 2017?
- Will Fakebook’s failings send more business to publishers, or will all the benefits accrue to Google? Or is Fakebook such a Teflon-coated irresistible force that not even all of these embarrassments will slow it down?
- Were Fakebook’s reporting errors just mistakes, or do they indicate something more systemic or even sinister?
- Wanna see Fakebook obits of Chuck Norris, Steve Martin, Hugh Hefner, and Clint Eastwood? They're featured now on the Dead Tree Edition Facebook page. If you see Fakebook "no-bits" of other famous, alive celebrities, send screenshots to email@example.com and I'll post them as well.