Apple's move to steer more traffic directly to its News app catches publishers by surprise
Apple did not inform three large publishers about a change in its software that would redirect user traffic away from their websites and toward its News+ app instead, according to three executives inside the companies that have direct dealings regarding Apple News+.
The publishers each have a global footprint. The publishing executives, who requested anonymity to protect industry relationships, said they learned about the change Monday through social media and news reports. Two of them said they are evaluating whether to terminate their relationship with Apple News+ as a result of the change, but for now are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Apple declined comment.
Apple News+ is a $10 monthly subscription service that curates mostly paywalled stories from hundreds of publishers such as The New Yorker, National Geographic, Time, Car and Driver and The Idaho Statesman.
The change to steer readers directly to Apple's app, which is slated to go into effect later this fall, will redirect users to its app should they click a link to an article from one of its News+ publishing partners, regardless if the link appeared in social media or a search result.
Apple previously said that it’s redirecting people to its News+ app to improve user experience, adding that subscribers are opted in by default, but may change their preferences through its settings menu. It says it is also providing publishers with “increased engagement and revenue opportunities,” though the publishing executives Ad Age spoke with said any revenue generated through Apple’s ad business is miniscule. Digiday reported similar findings last year.
Two of the executives at the publishers told Ad Age they receive decent traffic through their deal with Apple, but are now questioning how it will impact their bottom line, as they each have greater monetization opportunities through their owned properties.
Terminating the partnership with Apple would take several months, not years, to execute, one of them said. “The math around this becomes really hard to justify,” this person added. “From a [revenue per thousand impressions] perspective, it is not like Apple is crushing it right now. But if there’s meaningful traffic loss, it will be a big deal.”
'No advanced warning'
Apple has a track record of not communicating significant changes, such as the company’s decision to remove third-party cookies from its Safari browser, as well as changes to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), two of the publishers said. Both impact areas such as ad targeting and measurement. By contrast, Google gave the industry a two year heads up that it would remove cookies from its Chrome browser.
“Google and Facebook get knocked by our industry, but they are really good at communicating with their publishing partners,” one of the publishing executives said. “Apple will just drop a press release. You get no advanced warning.”
Publishers said they were mostly attracted to News+ because it could increase their audience growth, as Apple is the dominant smartphone in the U.S. with 59 percent market share, according to Statcounter. Apple’s latest change, however, may result in losing control of that relationship with readers.
Apple has not released figures regarding its News+ app, though the New York Times reported last year that the company signed 200,000 subscribers within the first week of its launch.