Publishers View Apple News+ as an Experiment, Not a Solution to the Industry’s Woes

Those participating see the service as a way to expand audience, drive new subscribers

Apple News+ publishers are designing their content to be primarily viewed on mobile devices, not tablets. Trent Joaquin for Adweek
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So far, media buyers and industry insiders don’t seem overly enthused by Apple’s video streaming prospects with Apple TV+. But publishers participating in the other big offering Apple rolled out on Monday, Apple News+, said they see the service as a way to help expand their audience and drive new subscribers.

Publishers view Apple News+, which packages over 300 magazines (including Adweek), several large newspapers and a handful of digital sites for a monthly price of $9.99, as yet another experiment to chase readers and gauge what they want to read—and what they’re willing to pay for.

At this early stage, they see it as another experiment, not a white knight that will save an ailing industry.

Whether they’re using the service to flirt with launching their own subscription offerings or leaning in and investing heavily in Apple News+, they have all learned from mistakes made with Texture, the Netflix-for-magazines app on which Apple’s new product was built. They are chasing readers to where they’ve moved—to the phone—and are designing their offerings primarily for the screens in our pockets, not the iPad.

Apple’s hardline stance to operate with a 50/50 split of revenue with publishers, further dependent on how long a reader interacts with the content that publisher provides, reportedly pushed away top news publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post.

And that makes sense given that the risk is high for publishers with a robust subscriber base, said Josh Resnik, svp, publisher and chief content officer at FiscalNote.

“You risk consumers migrating there and relatively low revenue share, no direct audience relationship and no access to data,” he said. But the risk is much lower for smaller ad-supported publishers, where, Resnik said, they can find significant traction and large audiences on Apple’s service.

“There are potential upsides, and relatively little risk in experimenting with this and seeing where it leads,” he added.

We chatted with some of the publishers who did sign on to hear what they hope Apple News+ will offer readers, how big an investment they’re making in the service and whether they hope it ultimately drives readers back to their own sites.

Here’s what they had to say:

New York Media (New York magazine, The Cut, GrubStreet, Vulture)

After launching successful paywalls across its verticals at the end of last year, New York Media sees participating in Apple News+ as “a way to reach new audiences,” said chief product officer Daniel Hallac.

“Our goal is hopefully that what we offer on our owned and operated properties will be greater than what’s available than on something like Apple,” he said.

All of the content that appears in the print version of New York magazine will appear on the app as well as more than 95 percent of the magazine’s digital verticals, Hallac said. The publisher is using existing staff members to populate the service.

The goal is to get the content in front of as many people as possible, he added, leaving full-blown subscribers to enjoy something it hopes only its owned and operated sites can provide: a sense of community.

Apple has given the publisher some tools to experiment with and was quick to highlight The Cut’s moving cover image at its Monday press briefing. That new format has left New York Media open to thinking about how The Cut can be turned into a digital magazine down the line.

“It’s an interesting experiment for journalism. Can a digital, print magazine work? And live? And succeed? And is it something users want? That’s a cool problem to try and figure out,” Hallac said.

Vox Media’s The Highlight

The Highlight, a collection of new content, will be populated by existing writers and two new staff members, roles that are being advertised as one-year, temporary positions. It’s unclear whether that means the partnership with Apple is only a year.

The Highlight’s content will live exclusively on Apple News+ for a week, after which it will become available on Vox’s website. It’s an opportunity the company is taking as it explores subscription offerings, company execs said.

Meredith

All of Meredith’s rate-based titles and some special-interest titles will be available on the service, about 30 brands in all, said Doug Olson, president, Meredith Magazines. The magazine publisher launched on the service without the titles embedding fancy bells and whistles (like inserting video or podcasts), a lesson it learned from Texture, previously owned by magazine publishers including Meredith, Condé Nast and Hearst, who sold it to Apple a year ago.

“There was so much focus on the enhancements, they forgot about the base user experience,” Olson said. These so-called enhancements will be added to the titles over the next few months as well as what Olson described as “premium advertising opportunities” on the platform.

And while Texture focused on the iPad, Olson is energized by having an opportunity to appeal to the mobile user.

“This might be the bridge for the digital future for some of these brands,” he said.

After working to put this offering together over the past nine months, Olson estimates it has added about a dozen employees to the workforce who have worked on engineering the backend. The brands were already providing material to Apple News, so getting this off the ground “wasn’t a heavy lift,” Olson said.

“The economics on one of these subscriptions is better than the traditional subscriptions that comes through direct mail and other sources to sell magazines to consumers,” Olson said, later adding, “Some of the people who have paywalls each month have been less supportive, but we think with mostly monthly titles and not that high of a price point for consumers it makes a lot of sense for us to get to that net new consumer.” 

The Los Angeles Times

The L.A. newspaper looks to reach a whole new audience on Apple News+, said LAT owner and executive chairman Patrick Soon-Shiong, in a  statement. Apple News editors will have access to choose from current and recent coverage from all of the publication’s sections to include in the feed.

However, the paper’s archival content won’t be available on the service.

“We are delighted to be one of just two U.S. newspapers selected to participate at launch and to share in the revenue from the premium subscription service, which will help fund our journalism,” Soon-Shiong said. “We expect that participation in News+ will spur our efforts to grow our digital audience by introducing or reacquainting readers with our revitalized reporting on Los Angeles, California and the West.”

Verizon Media’s Extra Crunch

Agreeing to a one-year deal, Verizon Media’s subscription offering from TechCrunch (called Extra Crunch) will be available on the service. The service won’t offer what some full Extra Crunch subscribers are entitled to, such as  conference calls with editors and discounted event tickets.

“It’s a good day for customers seeking in-depth, premium content from trusted sources. We continue to invest in our member-centric media and content ecosystem,” said Guru Gowrappan, Verizon Media’s CEO, in a statement.

Hearst Magazines

Hearst has experimented with distribution strategies, but Apple’s scale and interest in paid, premium content attracted the magazine publisher to the service, said Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines.

All of the brands are available on the service, and it’s yet to be determined whether the magazine publisher will release its own premium editions outside of the Apple service. For now, all the content that is in the magazines will be on the service.

“We’re obviously interested in getting new subscribers and the ability of this product to target younger readers,” Young said. “We’re still pretty committed to building our own direct-to-consumer subscription model.”

theSkimm

The digital media publisher, which started as a newsletter, signed on to the service to reach its audience, said Dheerja Kaur, chief product officer, over email. A regular Skimm app subscription costs $2.99 per month, after a 30-day free trial.

“theSkimm will be providing regular deep dives on timely topics in the news and cultural zeitgeist, bringing context and clarity to the most complex stories through a custom package of audio and exclusive text,” Kaur said.


@SaraJerde sara.jerde@adweek.com Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.
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