Apple Newsstand had its fair share of detractors.
Perhaps the most prominent of the digital newsstands that were seen as the saviour of magazines, it promised to provide the first generation of digital natives access to publishers’ content in a way that would benefit both them and publishers.
Unfortunately that didn’t turn out to be the case.
Instead interest from readers never really took off, publishers began pouring more of their time into the areas their consumers actually were spending time with (like social), and Apple quietly stopped supporting its newsstand.
Back in September of last year we asked whether the death of Newsstand would, in fact, be a good thing for publishers as well. We concluded that it would at the very least force them to plunge into a digital river that didn’t follow the course everyone thought it might:
“If publishers do realise that digital newsstands have not delivered on their promise there should be more impetus to try new approaches that reflect the whole digital environment they are playing in, rather than the small markets artifically corraled into newsstands.”
It’s an argument based on the idea that publishers’ competitors aren’t simply the publications that existed next to one another on a physical newsstand, but rather anything online that is competing for their audiences’ time. So will the recently-announced “Flipboard-like” News app, which will supplant if not entirely replace Newsstand, finally force publishers to adapt?
Increase the reach
The big advantage of Apple News is that, since it will automatically appear on iOS devices when users upgrade to iOS9, it allows publishers to reach the millions of consumers who have Apple devices immediately. The sign-up process is relatively simple, being RSS-based, so the barrier for publishers is significantly lower than it was on Newsstand. As a corollary, though, that means that larger publishers are going toe-to-toe with nimbler digital equivalents.
There was also initial controversy over the opt-out nature of News, with speculation that Apple were skirting the fringes of impropriety in an attempt to have a huge stock of News content ready for launch.
One big selling point for publishers – at least in the email that Apple sent to publishers following the announcement – is control over how that content is displayed. The FAQ states:
“With Apple News Format, you’ll be able to create beautifully crafted layouts with custom typography, rich photo galleries, videos, and animations. Author once and News will optimize your content for all iOS devices. You’ll also be able to connect your existing content management systems to News, and get access to a rich suite of tools for measuring user engagement.”
Though obviously limited to a certain set of parameters, the suite of options allows for at least as much customisation as Facebook’s Instant Articles, and with the appeal of the Flipboard design. News, then, is certainly a faster and nimbler way for publishers to get their articles out to audiences, one that’s more in line with how their audiences are already consuming content online.
But what about the financial implications?
Unlike Newsstand, which put the onus on publishers to sell subscriptions to the digital editions, News is a primarily ad-supported endeavour.
The breakdown of ad sharing, whereby publishers get 100 percent of the ad revenue if they sell using their own inventory or 70 percent if they use Apple’s iAd inventory instead, should sound familiar – it’s exactly the same breakdown being offered on Facebook’s Instant Articles. The same advantages will presumably apply.
The FAQ for News sets out the app’s stall fairly early:
“Keep 100% of the revenue from the ads you sell in your articles or channel, or 70% if iAd sells the ads for you. You can also earn revenue from ads sold by iAd that appear in Apple-curated topic feeds, such as Fashion or Technology.
“Advertisers can choose from a broad range of ad formats to capture every messaging opportunity, including banner, video, and native ads.”
It’s a sign that, as pointed out on Nieman Lab, this is set to be “the year of distributed content”. Publishers are taking steps towards placing their content beyond the bounds of their own sites, and platforms like Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News are offering ways of doing that that might generate enough revenue to succeed.
But more importantly it’s forced publishers, blinking, into the sunlight of the digital publishing world, where they’re neither protected or stifled by the constraints of the Newsstand. Now, they’re simply one form of content among many online, and ironically might be better off for that.