Mobile traffic remains a challenge for content publishers, regardless of size and niche. Some opt for mobile friendly versions of their website, or responsive sites. Others prefer to have more control and monetization options (like paid subscriptions) so they develop branded publisher apps. The leaders (like CNN and The Guardian) combine both strategies.
iTunes for content?
Apple is looking to make money from iAd, while keeping it “close to home”. Also, somewhere there is an Apple exec dreaming of doing to the publishing market what Apple did to the music sales business with iTunes. This is where Apple News comes in.
The news app became an integral part of the iOS default app collection in September 2015, and was defined as beta. Aimed at U.S., U.K., and Australia, the new news aggregator initially contained content from a few select publishers like Conde Nast and Vox Media. Although other publishers could have their RSS feeds available on the app, only the large media companies could use the Apple News Format to create rich articles within the app and combine the publisher look and feel with Apple’s clean look. These premium publishers were also the only ones capable of monetizing their content in the app with iAd.
The gate is open
All this changed last month when Apple quietly allowed open registration for inclusion in Apple News regardless of publication size. This rippled through the online publishing and journalism ecosystem like a wave, leaving behind scepticism and quiet fear. Will this really change the online publishing landscape like that Apple exec might be dreaming?
According to publishers who were included in the beta program, performance in terms of ad revenue was lower than expected to say the least. Apple promised 40 million users and a plethora of advertisers, and under-delivered with low engagement and fill-rates. Publishers even complained that Apple was overselling the actual number of users the app actually has. With the end of the beta, Apple promised a re-vamped analytics board and a paid subscription option.
News or lose.
While they’re trying to get more advertisers aboard with iAd, Apple is promoting the News app to users in every way it can including print ads. It’s no surprise Apple is having a hard time attracting publishers and users alike.
Most publishers already have their mobile content publishing and monetization strategy all worked out. And unlike Facebook Instant Articles and Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, the Apple News platform is currently limited to iOS devices only. In addition, the app is currently available only in some regions whereas users in other areas of the world need to hack their way in. Not to mention the fact that with this platform publishers are limited to one source of display ads: iAd.
For end-users, this will require a change in content consumption habits. Many use content discovery apps like FlipBoard and RSS readers like Feed.ly or even Google News on iOS to get their “fix” of new content. Getting them to opt for a new news app might not be easy for Apple.
Will it trend?
So will this format replace the branded news apps? Not anytime soon. The only way Apple can take over the publishing market would be to remove all the competing branded apps from the iTunes app store. Which Apple obviously won’t do in order not to alienate the publishers or users. If the News app is adopted by enough users and publishers, it’ll be an alternative for publishers who rather not invest in their own mobile app.
Although the Apple News comes pre-installed on all iOS devices, it is in no way a replacement for a branded app for even the smallest publications. It can only be an addition. Publishers looking for an effective multi-channel monetization strategy for their content should continue comparing mobile ad networks and invest in promoting their app to the relevant audience.