The What, Why and How of Apple News+ for Publishers

A comprehensive look at everything Apple News+, from what the numbers are, to how different publishers are using the service.

Liam Handford

Liam Handford

October 17th, 2019 | Reading Time: 9 mins
News Plus+

Contents

  1. What is Apple News+
  2. The Numbers
  3. Why Are Publishers Signing Up To Apple News+?
    1. Reach
    2. Trust
    3. Mobile-First
    4. Willingness To Pay
    5. Experimentation
  4. How Are Publishers Using Apple News+?
    1. The Wall Street Journal
    2. theSkimm
    3. New York Magazine
    4. Hello! Magazine
    5. The Highlight by Vox
  5. Make The Most of Apple News+

 


 

With Apple News+ just released in the UK, we thought it was time to give a comprehensive rundown of the What, Why and How of Apple News+, for Publishers considering the service.

There’s a 30-day free trial available, so if you have an Apple device it’s at least worth checking out to see what publishers are delivering.

What is Apple News+?

Apple News+ is a subscription service that takes content from over 300 of the biggest publishers and packages it up into a personalized experience for each reader. Fully curated by a dedicated Apple editorial team, it offers the best content from behind even the biggest paywalls, for just $9.99 a month.

Some of the publishers signed up to News+:

  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Forbes
  • Vogue
  • Wired
  • National Geographic
  • People
  • OK
  • TIME
Apple News+
“Netflix for Magazines”

The Numbers

  • Pre-installed on every Apple device (of which there are 1.4 billion)
  • Apple News already has 90 million active users – it’s the most popular news app in the world
  • Launch numbers for News+ were low, with only 0.2% of users taking on their free trial within the first 48 hours
  • Apple takes a 50% revenue cut from subscriptions
  • Publishers keep 100% of ad revenue
  • Each month 5 billion articles are read in Apple News

Though it was off to a slow start, Apple News+ is slowly proving to publishers that it’s here to stay, and more importantly grow.

Why Are Publishers Signing Up to Apple News+?

Reach

Mainstream publishers have struggled to hold the attention of digital readers, and we’re all slowly coming to accept that there’s a huge cohort of growing consumers that will never be entirely loyal to a single brand, and instead prefer to spread their net of attention much more widely.

For those consumers, it’s all about getting the right content infront of them at the right time, something that relying purely on branded channels can’t achieve. It’s the same reason Facebook took off as a platform for Publishers – but poor AI-driven curation and lack of a premium feeling doesn’t make it ideal for many.

“This is a grand experiment. The Apple audience is not the same as our web audience. Someone who will want to subscribe to us directly is different from someone who’s interested in the bundle”

Daniel Hallac, New York Media Chief Product Officer

Trust

Although it’s usually clear where content is from, Facebook has struggled with the reputation that content found there, regardless of source, is automatically suspect. Apple News has been a longstanding source of varied, quality content, and being pre-installed has made it a staple of the Apple ecosystem.

The biggest factor is that it’s a committed human editorial staff curating content, not relying on AI algorithms that can be gamed. The $9.99 paywall may be a barrier to some, but for those that subscribe, it instills a layer of confidence that the content they’re getting is high quality and trustworthy.

Mobile-First

More and more consumers are turning to digital for their news and entertainment, and since it’s now the norm, readers expect responsive, robust mobile experiences. The average US adult spends 3 hours a day on mobile, with 80% of that time spent inside an app. Native apps are costly to build and maintain, and News+ for many publishers is the perfect compromise.

Apple News+ isn’t only providing another opportunity for publishers to put themselves right in front of the most avid digital readers, but also compared to many platforms, making it easier to provide a mobile-first experience, with Apple promising to further enhance it as they update the platform.

Willingness To Pay (WTP)

With the $9.99 price tag for News+ (which many publishers were dubious about, given the cost of their own subscriptions) – It at least ensures that users of Apple News+ are willing to pay, their value as an audience is dramatically increased compared to on a free or ad-driven platform where the vast majority are unlikely to be willing to directly pay for any content. Publishers that are looking to convert readers to their own subscriptions can be more confident on News+ that they’re talking to the right people.

Experimentation

Without giving it away for free and feeling as though their brand is being devalued, publishers are able to use Apple News+ as a testing ground for formats. Some publishers have decided to encourage Apple News+ use by providing content with limited-exclusivity on News+, others have taken the opportunity to dive in with completely new formats – such as series-based stories, with each being related to the same topic but covering entirely different perspectives.

Apple News+ is an opportunity for us to step back from the daily news cycle and focus on stories that are enduring, important and deeply enjoyable to read

Vox, Managing Editor

There’s also the hope that Apple really are willing to put all their weight behind the “Netflix for News” idea, with more features like animated covers, better analytics and deeper control over targeting to help pull in advertisers.

Animated covers can bring digital content to life

How Are Publishers Making The Most of Apple News+?

The Wall Street Journal

  • High-quality content on varied topics to expand reach
  • A ‘teaser’ strategy to try to funnel readers to WSJ Subscription

One of the biggest names available on News+ (and probably one of the most unexpected) is The Wall Street Journal. As far as premium content goes, The WSJ is nearer the top, with a longstanding history of quality journalism and a modern approach to digital publishing, they ask for $19.40 a month for an ‘All Access Digital’ package.

Their biggest concern with Apple News+ was that offering such a bundle of magazines for $9.99 would devalue their brand – Why pay $19.50 for The WSJ when you can get them as well as 300 other sources of content for half that? Their answer to this is, you can’t. The WSJ only offers 3 days worth of carefully selected content on News+. They want to reach readers they wouldn’t reach otherwise, with hard-hitting stories.

The WSJ on Apple News+

The deal will enable us to get our journalism in front of millions of people who may never have paid for our journalism before.

William Lewis, CEO of Dow Jones & Co

theSkimm

  • Custom digest
  • Exclusive content to News+
  • Focus on no-frills, snackable content

For a brand with it’s home in Email Newsletters and a premium native app, it was interesting to see theSkimm sign up to News+. Their strategy is one giant experiment, a mix of trying to be a traditional digital publisher and testing a custom digest that exists exclusively on News+.

theSkimm
theSkimm on Apple News+

As you can guess from the name, theSkimm is an attempt to cut through the noise and get right to the point and inform readers without the fluff.

It’s looking to be a great fit with the ideal platform and publication to tackle information overload.

New York Magazine

  • Using News+ as a testbed
  • Experimenting with different article formats
  • Trying to find a balance between print and digital design

New York Magazine says they’re using each week as an opportunity to explore what a digital experience of their magazine could look like – something all publishers should be dialing in.

Their focus is on finding a way to make their traditional content stick with digital readers, however they still have too many fossils leftover from their print offering. It’s not something unique to New York Magazine, it’s a problem throughout digital publishing.

New York Magazine on Apple News+

Unresponsive full-page ads aren’t necessarily the worst thing to do, but having 2-3 of them in a row, in a digital format is jarring. What might feel normal and expected in print, certainly doesn’t feel that way on News+. There are still too many publishers that make great effort to make editorial content responsive and great to read on iPad or iPhone but muddy the waters by still abiding by ad formats that worked for them elsewhere.

Hello Magazine

  • Highly visual and attention-grabbing design
  • Uses live covers to increase engagement
  • Created a mobile experience without losing the tone of their brand or the impact of their print version

Hello Magazine has made full use of live covers to make their publication stand out, especially when surfaced to the News+ ‘Featured’ page by the editorial team. They’ve also managed to capture the eye-popping feel of their print magazine without diminishing the mobile experience.

Hello Magazine’s live cover

The Highlight by Vox

  • Custom digest to offer something unique and easy to engage with
  • Exclusive to News+ for the first week

Vox on News+ may be one of the most interesting cases – The move was an easy decision since no worries about Apple’s pricing structure will effect their bottom line as they don’t have their own premium subscription offering to protect.

The Highlight by Vox

Within News+ Vox offers all their latest stories in an article-based format, but also offers issues of a magazine they call “The Highlight” (much like Hello!). Pushing The Highlight first over their other content makes complete sense, as already mentioned in this article, they consider it to be an opportunity to stop relying on the daily news cycle and instead focus purely on getting great content in front of readers.

Each issue only contains a few articles, with off the cuff topics that most people are unlikely to be searching for – but are interesting and most importantly, engaging.

Make The Most of News+

If you’re a publisher looking to sign up to News+, one thing we can’t stress enough is: Keep it responsive

A platform designed from the ground up to cultivate and reach out to digital power readers is deserving of responsive content. All the effort put into creating and curating content for a News+ publication is easily wasted when readers are instantly hit with unresponsive PDF’s and too many full-page ads. Panning and zooming might be passable on a tablet, but it’s still not the experience readers expect from premium content.

We need to break the myth that responsive content is costly to create – it used to involve teams of developers and designers coordinating with editors, but not anymore. Lots of services, Canvasflow included, make it simple for publishers to not only build responsive content without developers, but also convert InDesign/Print content into structured HTML. Content regardless of its original source can be ready to publish to any mobile channel with minimal production time.

Canvasflow, for example, helps keep your content flexible, so that whether you want to publish to News+, and then republish to WordPress, or an app – you can, without having to spend time creating multiple versions or manually converting to different formats.


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