The launch of Apple News Plus, the all-you-can-eat magazine subscription service, aims to get publishers hoping for a new rush of readers glued to their iPhones. Once bitten, though, those publisers are still approaching the platform with caution, afraid of giving up the lifeblood of their businesses.
The tradeoff from the subscription service, which launched last week, is clear, print industry stalwarts can appear on Apple News Plus, with immediate distribution on 1.4 billion devices, but they have to give up that direct connection to readers. The magazines—from publishers like Hearst, Condé Nast and Meredith—won't get access to data about their Apple News Plus readers, because Apple doesn't track users, which also means advertisers can't target them.
"The economics on Apple News is obviously less than we get from our owned and operated properties," says Daniel Hallac, New York Media's chief product officer. "But it's a different audience than our web properties, so it's an opportunity to reach new people."
New York Media is something of a petri dish for Apple's new venture, it has one print publication on the platform, New York magazine, and three digital-first properties: The Cut, Vulture and Grub Street, behind the premium paywall. ($10 a month to access all publications involved, about 300 titles.)
The publisher is facing familiar headwinds, too, having recently gone through a round of layoffs, and it was reportedly exploring the possibility of a sale, before CEO Pam Wasserstein ruled out that option at a company meeting in February. It is now considering new partnerships that could add value to the company and its operations.
In the past three months, 46 million people visited New York's own websites while 5 million readers accessed them on Apple News, the free version that has been around since 2015. Hallac says there is little overlap between Apple readers and the magazine's own loyal audience.
What New York will do is post its namesake fortnightly magazine in full on Apple News Plus and offer a selection of what it considers premium articles from Grub Street, Vulture and The Cut, which Hallac call a "News Plus bundle."
"What lives behind the bundle will evolve and change the more we learn what works and what doesn't," he says.
That seems to echo the experimental mindset of other publishers. Bloomberg offers Businessweek, but none of its daily news. The Wall Street Journal, only one of two newspapers, offers its general interest stories but only a limited window to read its higher-value financial news.
"If Facebook taught publishers anything it's to not depend on a third party for a key part of your business," Jason Clampet, a publishing industry veteran and co-founder of Skift, an online travel publisher.
There are still so many unknowns, especially around advertising. Ads from the print editions will appear in Apple News Plus, but for digital-only publications like The Cut there isn't a print version to provide the ads. Hallac says the company has talked to brands for special sponsorships in the Apple News bundle from New York Media.
Then there is the question of calculating audiences. Print outlets can include Apple News Plus readers in their ad rates, according to publishers. However, advertisers might be wary of how those extra readers get counted, because they qualify if they just open one story from a publisher each month for only a second, according to one advertising agency executive, who has been in talks with publishers about Apple News Plus.
John Wagner, group director for publishing media at PHD, says that Apple News Plus could wind up being a creative catalyst for magazine advertisers but it depends on how far Apple will let them explore. "You can engage in the smartphone, open ad units, go behind the scenes," Wagner says. "I would love to make ads come to life with AR and VR."