Apple’s ‘Netflix for News’
The news industry’s saviour, or the final nail in the coffin?
Legacy media continue to struggle in the era of digitization dominated by technology giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook. As the world, driven by innovation and technology, continues to change in increasingly unpredictable ways, and most importantly continues to digitize, print revenues which once made up the bulk of news organisation’s earnings are dropping sharply, and in some cases ceasing to exist (Statista Research Department, 2019).
In 2016 for instance, The Independent, once widely read by British citizens travelling to work on the tube or the bus, abandoned its print newspaper edition (BBC, 2016). Meanwhile, in the United States, weekly newspaper print circulation has declined from its peak of 60 million in 1994, to the figure of 35 million in 2018 which includes both print and digital circulation (McLellan & Miles, 2018). Furthermore, advertising revenue which newspapers once relied on is drying up because massive technology companies can target audiences more efficiently than ever, microtargeting individuals directly through their social media platforms. Technology giants like Facebook and Google can offer advertisers lower rates than newspapers, and benefit from more virtual space and reach. The online advertising marketplace can be referred to as a ‘winner takes all’ arena where legacy media are squeezed out from enjoying the financial benefits that once sustained their business models.
These dynamics, among others, have forced traditional newspapers to re-think their business models and their future strategies. Indeed, the industry continues to witness a shift from advertisement-led business models to paid digital subscriptions, evidenced by the countless paywalls appearing on the sites of ‘big players’ in the US market such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Economist. Subscriptions are now ‘the thing’ in the news industry, as media organisations struggle to survive in a precarious market. But given the well documented limits of consumers’ willingness to pay for news, the subscription-based business model is by no means a certain way of saving the industry.
Against this backdrop, acknowledging their relative decline in power and influence, newspaper board members continue to be open to experimenting with the various technological innovations available. Chief among those innovations in 2019 is the idea of a “Netflix for News”- more of a reality than a fantasy following Apple’s launch of its Apple News Plus platform last year (Goode in Wired.com, 2019) which aims to offer precisely that. The platform is still in early days but with its relatively affordable subscription cost of $10 a month, and early signs of product promise, some optimists hope that it could provide a real and long-term sustainable solution to the newspaper industry. On one side, the hope remains that innovation such as Apple News+ could offer a way out for the struggling industry of news.
On the other hand, concern is growing that such innovative solutions could be the final nail in the coffin for an already struggling news industry as it gets swallowed by the information giants of the digital and economic world. Indeed, given the growing power of Apple, of Facebook, and of Google and the implications of this process, but also considering the importance and crucial nature of journalism as a social institution, both propositions should be thoroughly investigated. This report therefore investigates the wider idea of news aggregations through the product of Apple News Plus to study whether it offers a potential solution for the struggling news industry, or merely represents another step in the process of power transfer from legacy media to the giants of the technology industry.
What is Apple News Plus and How does it Work?
Apple News Plus is essentially a paid extension of the previous Apple News which offers and curates content from its partners to subscribers of the product. Partners include various politics-related magazines such as The Atlantic, Vox, The New Yorker, entertainment outlets like Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone , daily newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times and many others (Apple, 2019). It succeeds both Apple News and the Texture magazine app purchased by Apple in March2018 and combines the two into one product. Readers get access to unlimited content for a subscription fee $10 a month. The product is now available in the United States, Canada and recently launched in the United Kingdom. With many European outlets considering whether to cooperate with Apple’s product, we evaluate the viability of Apple News Plus from a business, practice and institutional perspective for journalism
The situation in the news industry today
In order to comprehensively evaluate the viability of engagement with the product of Apple News Plus, it is important to review and understand the current predicament the news industry faces in general. For it is impossible to make educated decisions about an issue without first understanding major contestations and continuities, and what implications they entail. The word ‘crisis’ often appears in most analyses of the news industry, and it isn’t difficult to see why. We break down this section in three parts. First, we outline the trends of falling advertising revenue which has led to a shift to paywalls and paid content. Secondly, we assess whether this shift is sustainable for the industry considering consumers’ willingness to pay for news. Finally, we assess the asymmetrical and growing power of digital intermediaries with examples directly related to the launch of Apple News Plus.
The Advertising Problem: Revenue and the tech giants
A key driver of interest in innovative solutions, even if it means forfeiting power to digital intermediaries, is the problem online newspapers face with revenue, in particular from advertising.
The problem isn’t the lack of a market or demand for online advertising, as seen on the graph to the right. Indeed, last year, total advertising spending in the UK increased by 4.6% to reach a record of £22 billion pounds in 2018, while the online market grew by 13% to reach 7.3 billion in the first six months of 2019 alone (Lepitak, 2019). The problem, instead, is that news publishers are increasingly receiving a smaller slice of the pie amid the dominance of technology companies. A study by News Media Alliance (2019) finds that Google receives 37% of all online advertising revenue in the United States. Conversely, when you combine it with Facebook, the figure rises to 60% of all ad revenue online. The remaining 40% is shared between the rest of the internet, meaning that newspaper publishers must compete not only with themselves, but also with other giants like Amazon and Twitter for the remainder of the market. Business insider (2019) shows that Google made almost as much money from news-related ad revenue than the entirety of US news publishers did in 2018.
It is therefore unsurprising to find that Bloomberg editor in chief John Micklethwait wrote the following in an editorial back in May 2018: “No news provider has maintained much of a profit out of advertising, no matter how big its audience.” On the face of it, one cannot necessarily blame advertisers for being more willing to do business with the giants of the tech world. As Ben Mathis-Lilley (2019) of Slate magazine explains, business means business:
“Google and Facebook can target that exact audience for you using information they’ve kept about their users and their interests. That’s a lot more efficient than individually purchasing ads on a bunch of different sites and publications whose readers might include your target demo, but also might include other people…”
Nevertheless, the drying up of publishers’ finances resulting from this process of increasing inequality between publishers and tech giants, what Nielsen and Ganter (2017: 3) refer to as the problem of asymmetry, comes with associated risks for journalism from a business perspective, which in turn damages journalism as an institution. One of the ways in which this is manifested is through notorious job cuts in the industry. There are less journalists to carry out their functions as watchdogs on power and informing the citizenry. For example, in January 2019 the company Verizon which owns Yahoo and The Huffington Post, cut 800 employees while Buzzfeed also cut 15% of its staff amounting to 200 journalists (Campbell in Huffington Post, 2019). These financial struggles which are negatively impacting journalism as an institution have understandably led to strategies to diversify revenue. A key trend in recent years has been the noticeable shift towards paid content. This should be understood as an attempt to compensate for the falls in revenue from advertising which in the past sustained the business models of legacy media.
The Shift towards Paywalls — Is it Sustainable?
The year 2019 continued to witness a trend which has been developing over the past few years. Faced with shrinking revenue from advertising, news publishers have responded by setting up various schemes through which they receive direct payment from readers. The specifics of paid content vary, including membership, subscription and metered paywalls where some outlets offer a few free articles per month beyond which the user is invited to subscribe and pay a monthly fee. In Europe, pay models for online news are now prominent in countries like Poland, France and Finland (Digital News Report, 2019)
The American publications that set-up paywalls in 2019 included The Atlantic, Wired, as well as Bloomberg. Furthermore, sites which have used paywalls in the past such as The New York Times, have reduced the number of free articles available to expand their subscription base. Previously one could read 10 free articles on the New York Times over the course of a month, now that number stands at 5 (New York Times, 2019). There are promising signs for the adoption of this model. WAN-IFRA’s World Press Trends from 2019 report finds that subscribers to digital news worldwide have increased by 208% over five years leading up to 2018. Hence the report claims:
“Growth in digital revenue continues to counter some of the declines in print that have led to the contraction of total industry revenues during the past five years. This broad trend is forecast to continue into 2019.”
The Slovak newspaper Denik exemplifies the potential success story of the shift towards paid news, doubling its base of registered readers between 2015 and 2018. These numbers along with other successful case studies of focusing on paid content could lead us to conclude that this is the way forward for the industry. However, there are a few cautionary and negative aspects to consider. Firstly, willingness to pay greatly varies from country to country. As shown in our figure above, willingness to pay is relatively high in Nordic countries especially and has been on the rise in places like the United States, but remains dormant in the United Kingdom, likely due to a culture of free and quality public broadcasters such as the BBC. Indeed, Damian Radcliff (2019) reminds us that although some audiences are more willing to pay, large chunks remain reluctant. Furthermore, with the appearance of paywalls virtually everywhere, there is a serious risk of what analysts refer to as “subscription fatigue”: The tipping point at which a consumer realises he/she is paying too much.
Joshua Benton from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism explains this quite succinctly:
“how many paywalls will people really pay to click past? It’s worked for The New York Times; it’s worked for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. But does it work for local newspapers? … a potential subscriber must weigh it against every publication to which they’re already subscribed. At what point do they look at their expenditures and decide that one more monthly payment of $5 to $10 is just too much?”
Paywalls therefore often seem like the right business decision from the perspective of an individual publisher but could have negative implications for the wider institution of journalism in several ways; Firstly, by cutting off certain people from quality, professional news, particularly those who cannot afford them. Considering the high cost of maintain several subscriptions, poorer people stand to lose the most, which creates the risk of elitism in terms of access to information. Journalism is about informing, educating and therefore empowering citizens. It’s not and shouldn’t be about strengthening inequality
These serious considerations about the ‘pivot to paywalls’ continue to make Apple News+ an attractive proposition which could eliminate the problem of “subscription fatigue” and high cost especially for the less affluent. After all, $10 a month for a wide-range of content from various magazines and news outlets seems like a good deal compared to the $10 one pays for the New York Times alone. Furthermore, considering the sheer size, reach and power of Apple as a company, news outlets may be tempted to do business with it in the same way as they’ve done business with Facebook
Asymmetrical Power: The 50% Revenue Cut
However, that size and power of Apple is also a significant problem for a simple reason: News organizations need Apple more than Apple needs them. This has already become apparent in the deal Apple offers news and magazine outlets as part of the Apple News Plus business model. It wants a staggering 50% cut from the revenues received, with the rest divided among all the publishers based on time spent by users reading their content. The proposal has been widely criticized and is cited as the main reason why major news publishers in the US like the New York Times and Washington Post haven’t participated. Considering the time and effort quality journalism requires, and its importance as a social institution, the 50% that news publishers would have to divide among themselves does not appear like a good deal at all and wouldn’t help outlets receive the financial boost they need to sustain their practices. Perhaps this highlights the problem noted by media scholar Guillespie (2010) that large companies such as the technology giants and social media platforms “provide public services and constitute public space, they do so for private gain as for-profit companies…”
Journalism, meanwhile is essentially about the public’s interest and this should be kept in mind at every step of every negotiation. Nevertheless, perhaps out of necessity many news organisations now view Apple News Plus as more important to their business models than Facebook, indicating a willingness to engage with this innovative product. The next section of this report thoroughly analyses the pros and cons of Apple News Plus from the perspective of news publishers, consumers and journalism institutions.
What Are the Pros? What are the Cons?
There are undoubtedly many potential benefits for publishers joining Apple News. We previously elaborated on the cost issue of running multiple subscriptions, especially for poorer sections of the population. Apple CEO Tim Cook says that the cost of individual subscriptions to all content provided by Apple News Plus would be $8,000 a year. This is indeed a staggering figure that few people can afford. Apple News Plus has the potential to tackle this problem in a serious manner. Just two days after the launch of the product, Apple reported 200,000 new subscriptions to the product (Mac Rumors,2019), indicating serious potential in terms of attracting readers.
Traffic and Reach
We alluded earlier in this report to the sheer size and reach technology companies like Apple can offer the news industry. That remains the most attractive pull factor to engage with this technology. As of April 2017, 728 million iPhones were in use worldwide. That’s a huge pool of potential readers and potential new subscribers that outlets can reach out to. There have been very promising signs for publisher’s audience’ reach as a result of signing up to Apple News. At Slate, an online magazine which covers politics and culture in the United States, page views on Apple News (the earlier version of Apple News+) tripled between September 2017 and September 2018. The graph to the left shows just that. Those promising numbers are not just limited to Slate. Tom Dotan of The Information (2018) reported back in February 2018 that on certain days, Vox was receiving as much of half of its daily traffic from Apple News. Similarly, Mother Jones benefitted from a 400% increase in page views on Apple News. Those numbers are simply too big for news publishers to ignore and are an understandably a huge factor in their negotiations on whether to engage. But too much engagement, offering too much content on Apple News comes with its own risks.
News publishers are essentially facing a dilemma with Apple News Plus. On the one hand, they want to offer as much of their content as possible to the millions of iOS users to maximise reach and potential new subscribers. On the other hand, offering too much content risks ‘cannibalizing’ their own individual subscription models. Currently, most publishers offer a fraction of their content on the platform, hoping to gain new subscribers to their digital subscriptions. The risk is that readers will “cherry pick what they want via Apple news Plus…” (Constine, 2019) missing out on large swathes of high-quality content available on publishers’ websites. Readers might ask themselves the question: “why should we pay additionally for an individual subscription if we’re already paying for Apple News Plus?”. News geeks, or relatively wealthy individuals who subscribe to specific outlets to read say, financial news, might continue to pay for subscriptions. But considering concerns over willingness to pay for content by the average user which we elaborated on previously, Apple News Plus could shatter some outlets’ business models in the long run and leave society with fewer watchdogs and journalists to inform the public. However, not all media executives seem to worry about this. In the words of William Lewis, publisher of the Wall Street Journal.
“Is all our content going on Apple News? No. We’re going to make sure the Apple News product is a wonderful product people feel comfortable investing in”
Willian Lewis, Publisher, The Wall Street Journal
Revenues are Modest at Best, Disappointing at Worst
The optimism surrounding traffic increases as a result of engaging with Apple and its product also comes with a pinch of scepticism. First, scholars such as Tandoc and Thomas (2015) caution us from substitution professional journalistic assessments of newsworthiness awith “content choices that are more about attracting audiences than informing them.” Viewing a page does not mean reading the important news of the day in a meaningful manner and is therefore an unsatisfactory measure. Beyond that, however, there remains a concern that Apple News Plus is not generating much revenue for publishers, despite the spikes in traffic. A report by Digiday (2019) finds that most publishers are so far disappointed with the economic benefits of the product. At the core of this disappointment is the fact that revenues have remained very modest. An anonymous source representing a news publisher told Digiday the following: “We’re happy to be on there because it’s another way to increase subscription revenue, but it’s not like it’s a huge boon for our business or anything like that,” one magazine exec said. “It’s not really relevant.”
Modest revenues can be attributed to the 50% cut that Apple demands, but also the difficulty of selling Apple News inventory to advertisers. The report by Digiday finds several main reasons for this: Apple News Plus limits on user data and the targeting of users, its blockage of third-party data and IP addresses, as well as Apple’s lack of compatibility with publisher’s ad sales strategies. This means that publishers don’t receive the same detailed data about consumers which they would from their own websites. These issues highlight another difficulty for publishers: the relative lack of input over what is essentially an Apple-controlled environment. Which brings us to our next section about data and user-platform relationships.
Data and User Relationships: An Apple-Controlled Environment
The era of digitization and audience tracking through cookies as well as advertising targeting has allowed news publishers and advertisers to understand their readers, and their needs better than ever before. The problem with Apple’s is that Apple is not willing to share all data with publishers. Furthermore, readers visit Apple’s app primarily to access content, rather than the publishers’ websites which collect data such as: email addresses for future marketing and recommendations, cookies files which are set-up for advertising targeting and personalization of content. Through Apple News Plus, all that data remains in the control of one company: Apple. Furthermore, the platform does not redirect readers to publisher’s individual websites. This in turn robs the news publishers of maintaining a direct relationship with their readers, which “breeds loyalty and…in turn helps them to improve their products” (Oremus in Slate, 2019)
As Josh Constine (2019) from Slate explains, when Apple News Plus customers read an article, they won’t get to see that outlet’s individual curation methods which recommends other quality content. They also won’t develop a connection by interacting with the outlet’s home user interface. Media academics caution against such scenarios. Thurman et al (2018: 12) rightfully observe that to be successful in the modern age “news organizations must establish and maintain relationships with their news customers so that they can anticipate and solve their needs”.
Even if Apple does share some data with publishers, such as when it shared the numbers of 200,000 new subscribers in the early days of the product, the question of: “what data are they sharing, and what data are they hiding?” remains. A person in charge of strategy for a major publisher explains the issue quite clearly in his interview with Thurman and others (2019): “As an absolute minimal position we expect to be getting sufficient amounts of data back to be able to inform our business decisions. I think it’s fair to say we’re not getting that today…”. Under current circumstances, Apple is in control of the relationship with the reader. Readers are likely to develop a customer relationship with Apple, rather than the publisher from whom they are reading potentially valuable content.
Algorithms and Curation: An Improvement on the Facebook ‘clickbait’ Era
Apple News Plus employs algorithms in order to personalize and recommend content for its users. For instance, the “Trending” section largely works through an automated ranking system. In that section, one is likely to find a flurry of clickbait content such as this headline “Florida bartender arrested for throwing beer mug at customer’s head over bathroom comment” (Fox News, 2018). As Harcup and O’Neill (2017) point out, shareability or popularity has become of major importance when journalists assess the newsworthiness of a potential story. This brings us to the times of ‘clickbait’, low-quality journalism of the Facebook era.
However, there are also promising signs and indications that Apple News Plus is a significant improvement on the previous relationship publishers had with Google or Facebook, which were largely criticized for an over-reliance on algorithms which bred clickbait content.
For starters, the entire curation process is worth mentioning. Apple News Plus does not purely operate on an algorithmic basis in terms of directing stories to readers. Several sources have confirmed what a February 2019 report from The Information alluded to: That Apple has set up channels whereby editors of major news publications can pitch important stories. This is especially true for major papers such as BBC News and The Wall Street Journal. Although Apple sometimes rewrites headlines of important articles in its featured section, it does communicate with editors, allowing them to have some degree of input. Stories which are highlighted by Apple in “Top Stories” “Top Videos” and “Editors Pick” are curated by Apple News editors. Furthermore, those editors are former journalists who understand the larger societalimplications of journalism beyond generating profit. Finally, the human curators consider the credibility of a story and of a publication when recommending a story for its users:
“We’re committed to supporting quality journalism, and with Apple News Plus, we want to celebrate the great work being done by magazines and news outlets…”
Laura Kern. Editor in Chief. Apple News Plus.
Dealing with the Product: Two Example Scenarios
In this final section of the report we assess the scenarios of engagement with the product. We weigh in on media professionals’ response to Apple News Plus by conceptualizing two possible scenarios of dealing with this product. These scenarios are in turn supported by real-life case studies of how two American companies have thus far responded to Apple’s proposal. We hope that European media outlets considering or weighing in on engagement will learn valuable lessons and make the right decisions going forward. Our scenarios are as follows:
Scenario 1: Little or no engagement
The word ‘engagement’ entails accepting a product, accepting the realities of the market and working with it. However, a possible scenario which many outlets have thus far employed is in fact the lack of engagement. This refusal to work with Apple is largely a function of the negative aspects which we elaborated on in the previous sections of this paper. We now look at a concrete case study which European papers can learn from when assessing their own position vis-à-vis the product of Apple News. Our case study is The New York Times. Indeed, a major criticism of Apple News Plus is that it’s not really a news platform, but a magazine platform. Some have even said that the platform should be instead called Apple Magazine Plus. Considering that many news brands indeed have declined to engage with the product, we ask the question: why is this and what are the implications?
The New York Times announced in March 2019 that it will not be joining Apple’s subscription service (The Verge, 2019). Reuters (2019) spoke to CEO Mark Thompson about the reasoning. Chief among the concerns was the risk of losing subscribers to their own website which is vital to the Times’ business model of digital subscription. What’s more, its digital base is growing and generating revenue for the company. In 2018, for instance, the paper made over $700 million in revenue from its digital business. Considering the company’s plan to reach $800 million in digital revenues by 2020, the early signs of its strategy are promising. Despite widespread reports of journalists losing their jobs across the industry, the company invested heavily in its newsroom and currently employs more journalists than ever before, as many as 1550 (Ibid). The company is doing well and has little incentive to cooperate. What’s more, the 50% cut that Apple is demanding from revenues is also strongly discouraging not just The New York Times, but other top American papers as well as reported by The Verge. An even more important reason cited by the Times for not jumping on the Apple ship is the potential damage of losing control over their own products, which we discussed in the previous section. CEO Mark Thompson elaborates on this:
“We tend to be quite leery about the idea of almost habituating people to find our journalism somewhere else…We’re also generically worried about our journalism being scrambled in a kind of (blender) with everyone else’s journalism.”
Mark Thompson, CEO, The New York Times
It is therefore sensible to assume that certain top household names whose digital subscriptions are performing relatively well simply don’t see the logic in cooperating with Apple’s product because the cons outweigh the pros. They have more flexibility to not participate. Crucially, however, such companies have more leverage than other brands and could therefore use their bargaining position to negotiate a better deal in the future. However, this approach is not uniform in the industry, as we’ll see in our next section.
Scenario 2: Partial or High Engagement
Another publication which is performing relatively well is the Wall Street Journal. However, as opposed to the New York Times, The Journal has been very keen to cooperate with Apple’s product. Its positive stance towards Apple News came perhaps as a surprise, considering the relatively high cost of its own subscription, around $39, compared to only $10 for Apple News Plus. Hence the question: Why would readers want to continue paying four times as much for WSJ content if they can get all of it from Apple? However, as explained by CNN reporter Brian Selter who gained access to a WSJ internal memo, the company has a plan: making sure that Apple News Plus subscribers only gain access to a portion of Wall Street Journal content, notably general interest news rather than financial news.
The paper has reportedly made plans to hire 50 new journalists (Smith, 2019), many of which will write ‘general interest’ content such as sports, entertainment and lifestyle specifically for Apple News Plus. Nielsen & Ganter (2017: 15 )caution over news publishers losing control over ‘editorial identity to digital intermediaries. The move by The Journal may perhaps be interpreted as such. Although the finance-related articles from the publisher could be available within Apple’s application, they would be extremely difficult to find, as explained by the Journal’s own reporter — Amol Sharma.
The Journal’s strategy is based on the idea that users won’t bother to search for the specialized content they crave because that will be too hard within Apple News Plus, and will therefore continue paying for their subscriptions. However, a question emerges: Can the paper trust Apple not to jeopardize this business model by making it easier for users to access finance-related news? Nevertheless, considering the high willingness to pay for The Journal and its loyal fan base, the stragey could work.
As academic Andra Leurdijk (2014:148) explains, concerns about audiences’ reluctance to pay for news are real, but these concerns don’t necessarily translate to papers which focus on niche topics like financial news. This is why aside from the Wall Street Journal, online pay models of papers like The Financial Times, though expensive, continue to be successful. Readers want specific content related to the financial world, financial products, investments, the stock market which ‘general interest’ stories from Apple News Plus won’t satisfy. Furthermore, many of those readers have likely read these papers for years and developed a strong customer-product relationship. It is also worth mentioning that the average reader of such papers is relatively affluent, thus their willingness to pay may be higher. The Journal’s unique strategy is attributed to its unique position in the market, similarly like the New York Times. This observation feeds into our previous assessment that many concerns about engagement or disengagement don’t necessarily apply to the big players. This leads us to suggest that strategies of engagement vary widely, and depend on a publication’s particular circumstances.
Our Conclusion: Huge but Unrealized potential
An ideal scenario for the news industry would recognise that high-quality journalism is worth paying for and is vital for the healthy functioning of society. On the side of consumers, the $10 a month cost of the platform is a reasonable, affordable price which alleviates concerns over willingness to pay for news.
On the side of the news publishers which have increasingly relied on different forms of digital paid subscriptions to compensate for dwindling advertising revenues, the deal offered by Apple could and should be far better. The 50% portion of revenue which Apple demands continues to be a serious drawback and raises alarm-bells that Apple is exploiting its leverage over a struggling news industry to offer what is essentially a very bad deal financially. The 50% revenue that Apple enjoys seems unfair considering most of the work, time and effort to produce content falls on the shoulders of news and magazine publishers. Although Apple News Plus has undoubtedly shown great potential in terms of generating traffic and reach for publishers, it remains uncertain whether reach can be translated into new users for publishers’ own digital subscription models. Furthermore, promising reach has not translated into solid revenue for news and magazine publishers, due to the bad deal, Apple’s restrictive policy on user data and targeting as well as difficulties in integrating publishers’ advertising strategy into the News Plus interface. The platform remains an essentially Apple-controlled environment, denying companies of the chance to follow-up on new readers and establish user-provider relationship through e-mail recommendations or interactions with the home layouts.
From the perspective of journalistic practices and institutions, Apple News Plus is certainly an improvement on the ‘clickbait’ era of Facebook. Although ‘clickbait’, low-quality content still appears on the platform, guided by algorithms and the “Trending” page, Apple has committed to hiring former journalists as human curators. Furthermore, editors of important titles are allowed a degree of input in pitching important stories to Apple News Plus editors.
Considering the above, different scenarios have emerged in terms of dealing with the product. Whereas the New York Times and The Washington Post have opted not to cooperate with Apple, citing concerns over the potential of ‘cannibalizing’ their own subscription models, as well as reservations about giving up their journalism to an environment and company beyond their control, The Wall Street Journal has employed an opposite policy. It has happily engaged, hiring journalists to work on content exclusively for Apple News Plus, diversifying its editorial practices on the platform to focus on entertainment and lifestyle, while retaining subscriber’s intent on reading niche financial news on its homepage. These scenarios of engagement highlight that powerful, household names in the industry can afford to experiment with strategies. The hope remains that big powerful outlets can use their leverage power in the future to demand a better deal from Apple. In an ideal scenario this would entail a better deal for the entire journalism industry. Considering political pressures to break up the giants of the technology industry, further negotiating leverage could push Apple to offer the industry a better product that not only increases reach, but improves the quality of journalism as a business, practice and institution.
We conclude that Apple News Plus undoubtedly has tremendous potential to transform and perhaps even offer a ‘way out’ for the news industry. It is a step forward from Facebook-driven ‘clickbait’ journalism. However, in its current form, the negatives including modest revenue, concerns over customer relationships and Apple’s reluctance to offer smaller publishers input on curation outweigh the pros. The product could be significantly improved to cater to the needs of a struggling journalism industry.