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

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.

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