The Facebook Fed
There's a story that says that a bunch of publishers have suddenly seen the traffic they get from Facebook dry up, and they don't know why. Maybe it's just a "glitch" and traffic will surge again. Or maybe this is The Big One, and some algorithm change has slammed traffic to publishers in a semi-permanent way. Who knows. Buttom line though is that to a lot of publishers Facebook traffic is a huge deal, and that's cool, but it's also scary, because it's in many ways out of their control.
I think a good analogy is that Facebook is the Federal Reserve of web publishing. It can turn its dial and blast millions of visitors to numerous publishers, allowing everyone to have more eyeballs to sell to and more rising traffic numbers with which to attract investment. Facebook turning on the traffic fire hose is like loose monetary policy that stimulates the economy for everyone.
Of course, Facebook could tighten policy, pulling traffic (liquidity) and leaving weaker players parched. When the Fed tightens policy, shaky borrowers who depend on ample lending are hit hardest. When Facebook tightens policy, second-tier publishers that totally rely on Facebook are hit hardest.
Now there's a school of thought in economics, often associated with the Austrian school, that favors tight policy and "liquidationism" meaning they think it's good for the Fed to not be generous with money, because then the weak players will go out of business, and their assets will be sold off to stronger players, and the economy will emerge stronger, with a better allocation of capital. I tend to think liquidationism is garbage because it's pollyannaish that markets will clear nicely. You can just have stuff get worse and worse and spiral lower.
But within the context of a given industry, it makes sense for crappy players to be left to die so that better run companies can thrive. So I think strong publishers should be eager to see Facebook adopt a "Tight Traffic" policy that reduces everyone's access to eyeballs. The good publishers that have cultivated a real audience who cares about their stuff will ultimately be fine (after perhaps some short term pain). And the publishers who do little else but game Facebook (but who have no real fans or people who depend on them) will go by the wayside.
UPDATE: It occurs to me that this post might be too narrow focusing just on online publishers. I remember in the early days when Facebook became a "platform" it made it super easy for apps to go viral on Facebook, essentially encouraging users to spam their friends. That was a "loose money" era in so far as that period enabled tons of different startups and apps to bloom on top of Facebook. Then Facebook turned the dial hard, cutting of oxygen for spammy apps, and now the whole thing is a bit less annoying. Basically, there's just no comparable source of traffic to anything (Apps, stories, whatever) than Facebook, and they can spray it around as they please, causing boom and bust cycles in whatever industries they car to focus on.