What Will Apple News Do?

Apple is doing something with its News app. It could help the news media thrive or democratize it away from sustainability.

The recent Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis was a more-than-three-day opportunity for Ben Hinc and I to discuss Apple, cities and publishing.

During our final dinner together of the trip, I blurted out, “What a time this is.” Ben was understandably puzzled, so I continued by saying something about how him and I, despite being relatively normal dudes, have the ability to reach nearly everyone on the planet.

I then stated that if we were producing a printed publication, our audience would basically be limited from the start. As tangible things, magazines and newspapers have barriers to entry and consumption that are small but considerable. Our website, however, exists in the pockets of millions of people around the globe.

No, I didn’t just learn how the internet works. The magnitude of possibilities involved in modern publishing was a thought that crossed my mind earlier in the weekend. And the concept is present in a new service that Apple is rumored to be launching in 2019.

In March, Apple bought Texture, an app that offers access to more than 200 magazines for a monthly subscription. It seems inevitable that Texture’s future lies in the Apple News app that — here’s the connection — is already in the pockets of millions of people.

Texture obviously was available to all those people before it was acquired by Apple, but suffice it to say that a direct presence in an Apple-designed app that’s on every iOS device out of the box is better than any possible advertising.

While that underlying theme matches the thought I had, it’s the potential implementation and impact of a subscription model in the Apple News app that piques my interest most.

From Apple Music to the relatively new and all-encompassing TV app to the recently renamed Apple Books app, Apple is cleaning up and centralizing its service offerings. The company is no stranger to reconfiguring whole industries and the news media industry is on its list.

Two paragraphs each from Jason Snell of Six Colors and MacRumors’ Joe Rossignol today laid out the situation.

Snell first:

… the challenge here is that a lot of publications are making it work with their own premium subscription models. But there’s probably a second tier of publications that could see added revenue if they embraced Apple’s all-you-can-eat subscription approach.

It’s unclear if Apple can drive enough subscriptions to this service to provide enough revenue to make a bunch of other media businesses successful, though. My gut feeling is that it can’t, but it’s possible we’re heading for a hybrid model where dedicated subscribers pay news sources directly, while less loyal news grazers buy a Texture (or Apple News) subscription in order to browse widely without hitting a paywall.

This gets to the heart of a shift in the industry that I’m enjoying watching play out. Big-name publications that dabble in everything are being challenged by smaller, topical outfits. An IndyCar Series fan could perhaps keep up with the racing via USA Today, but couldn’t a publication that focuses totally on IndyCar serve them better? Almost certainly. And readers should pay for that — partially to support independent publishers but also to better enjoy keeping up with their favorite things.

In Snell’s “hybrid model,” those deeply interested readers would pay sites like Stratechery, The Information, The Athletic and The Apex directly while “less loyal news grazers” would have Apple’s futuristic News app to turn to for free and premium content.

What Rossignol wrote was similar:

Apple’s subscription news service is expected to be a “premium product,” but the report claims that some publishing industry executives fear the service could steal some of their subscribers, especially if it is affordably priced. Apple’s services chief Eddy Cue has reportedly met with some publishers to alleviate these concerns.

On the other hand, Apple News could be a lifeline for the industry. A subscription service would instantly reach hundreds of millions of iPhones and iPads, providing publications with exposure that would be very hard to achieve on their own.

If the statistics are to be trusted, 58 percent of The Apex’s readers last month consumed our content on Apple News. Thus, exposure indeed exists there.

Two things to note quickly:

  1. Subscriptions are already present in Apple News. Publications that employ a paywall on their actual website can keep the same premium content behind a subscription that’s managed, from what I can tell, alongside subscriptions to apps — streamlined and sensical. This means there’s already a workflow in place that Apple can evolve to match the magazines rather than online publications that I imagine will be brought over from Texture. I don’t know how to offer subscriptions in Apple News, but it doesn’t matter because…
  2. The Apex employs a different method for reaching sustainability and making money. We wanted to get readers involved in supporting our work and also wanted to remove advertisements from our creations, so we launched a value-for-value model a month ago wherein readers decide what The Apex is worth to them and match that value with monthly, annual or one-time contributions. All our content is freely available; there is no paywall. So while I like this supposed future for Apple News, it’s not a sandbox we’ll be playing in.
Autosport Plus subscription in Apple News app
Autosport’s readers can consume the website’s premium content in Apple News if they buy a subscription in the app. Millions of people have the News app, but not all of them know about Autosport.

But wait. Maybe the future of the News app is cheap and therefore grim.

It’s a scary thought I had about music last week: For $10 a month, anyone can access almost all music created ever. Now, Apple Music and Spotify subscribers don’t own the music; they’re merely streaming it. But I find it astounding that all music ever is worth $10. If all written content in Apple News is worth a similar monthly price, that would be very bad.

No matter the platform, I believe the livelihood of current and future publications relies on audiences deliberately directing their attention and money to sources they enjoy. I have faith that readers will see the value in doing business with publications. I just hope it costs them more than $10.

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