Facebook may begin testing a paywall for selected media stories as soon as October

Facebook could begin testing a paywall for subscription news stories as early as October, according to a top company executive.

Campbell Brown, who heads up the social network’s new partnerships business, made the reveal at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit on Tuesday, The Street reported. We have independently confirmed that, too.

“We are in early talks with several news publishers about how we might better support subscription business models on Facebook. As part of the Facebook Journalism Project, we are taking the time to work closely together with our partners and understand their needs,” Brown told TechCrunch in a statement via a spokesperson.

The project is still in its infancy, and it may be subject to change, but TechCrunch understands that the current plan is to work with a handful of publishers to introduce a system that would limit free viewing to 10 articles per month, as Digiday previously reported. After viewing 10 articles from the media company, a user would be promoted to sign up for a subscription to that publication or log into an active one.

That number is rigid at 10, despite the fact that publishers that operate a paywall allow varying numbers of free articles for visitors per month. A source to Facebook said the number would be the same across all partners to ensure consistency for users.

The source stressed that Facebook would allow participating media partners to maintain full control over which stories are locked behind the paywall and which aren’t, and full control of their subscriber data, too. At this point it is unclear exactly what access to reading data and history, which can help increase engagement, the media partners would get.

Equally, it isn’t clear how payment will be taken for subscribers who sign up via the Facebook paywall. Digiday reports the social network is considering bypassing Google Play and Apple’s App Store to avoid the mandatory 30 percent cut that each operator takes from digital payments. That may require a mobile web payment option, which would add friction to the user experience, potentially impacting the effectiveness of the program.

There’s certainly much to be confirmed. For one thing, which media firms will participate.

Facebook remains in talks with prospective partners, some of which have had one-on-one briefings while others were engaged via roundtables staged in New York and Paris last week. All being well, our source said that Facebook will look to broaden the paywall feature to more users next year, but there’s some way to go before that happens.