Apple’s News Publisher

How will it affect Journalism?

In case you haven’t read the news, Apple’s iOS9, will be shipped with a News App, that will be integrated into its home screen. They described it as follows:

News conveniently collects all the stories you want to read, from top news sources, based on topics you’re most interested in.

About a month ago, Facebook announced its Instance Articles too. In addition to the fact that the two announcements came right after each other, the two platforms actually play in the same area, news distribution. They both are providing channels for news creators to distribute their content in exchange for advertisements revenue share. There are, of course, existing players in this field, such as the Dutch startup, Blendle, but I’d rather only focus on the former two platforms in this article.

The homepage is dead

You sure heard this phrase a lot recently. Those new distribution channels are a bit different than the paperboy who used to deliver the newspapers to your neighbourhood. Facebook and Apple are not going to deliver newspapers, but news articles instead.

Old Fashioned Paperboy, photo taken by Jef Fisher and published on Flickr under Creative Commons License

I can’t remember visiting any news websites recently. I go to Facebook, then one friend of mine shares an article from the Guardian, another one shares a more interesting article from Quartz, or some cat-astrophic article from BuzzFeed. I read the article, then bounce out of the website back to Facebook.

Zach Seward of Quartz explained.

Everything about the design of Quartz emphasises individual articles over a navigational structure. There is a way to navigate around the site as readers can go to Quartz ‘obsessions’, “but we were set on the fact that all news websites live or die based on individual articles”.

This should result in more democratisation of news creation. Nevertheless, there is one main difference between Apple’s approach and Facebook’s approach.

From News Organisations to Bloggers

Unlike Facebook, who struck deals with news outlets like BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and National Geographic, Apple’s announcement claimed that they will be open to both organisations and individuals as well:

Anyone from major news organisations to magazines, blogs, and more can sign up to deliver their content to News.

I find this a very interesting detail in Apple’s new app. This brings Apple’s News Publisher platform in competition with the likes of Medium too, or not?

The News Publisher is the platform where publishers can submit their articles to Apple. This can be done via RSS or via Apple News Format. In the case of the former, it is clear that bloggers still need a CMS (blogging platform) to host their posts on. While for the latter, I am still not sure how it is going to work. Will Apple provide writers with some way to upload their article’s right away to the News Publisher? In such case, then yes, Apple is going to hurt the likes of Medium and Wordpress, especially with Apple’s promised ads revenue share, which is something Medium hasn’t figured out yet.

Algorithm Does Matter

One other news distribution app that I forgot to mention here is Zite. I used to like that app a lot, because, unlike Facebook, it used to learn my preferences well, and showed me news that are interesting to me. I can’t tell why I stopped using Zite though, I just keep on forgetting to use it.

Apple’s announcement says that they too will learn your preferences and deliver interesting news to you. Algorithms and machine learning, yay! But, wait a minute, doesn’t Facebook have algorithms too, and they too adapt your timeline based on your behaviour?

Sure, Facebook’s timeline is algorithmic too, but the algorithm in Facebook’s case is obsessed more about ads revenue. And it is not always the case that the things you like the most are the ones that your click will bring Facebook more revenue. Sure, they try to make that balance, but I do always miss interesting stuff posted on pages I follow there, and keep seeing boring and annoying stuff instead.

Does that mean that Apple is more careful about the news consumers satisfaction, or that we should trust Apple’s algorithms more than Facebook? Of course not. I do have my doubts about Apple’s news selection algorithm too. The only difference is that ads aren’t Apple’s main source of revenue, unlike Facebook who will go out of business if they don’t do ads.

Publishers move now

Finally, it’s publishers move now. How are they going to deal with those quick changes in their distribution network?

Of course, it is a lot of work from their side now. Not only to make their content available in different formats, but those disruptions in news delivery means more competition from smaller content producers, and more work to make individual articles standout and be valuable to be sold on its own regardless of the name of its publisher.

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