Publishers that hope Apple News readership will make up for losses from Facebook’s changes to its news feed can keep dreaming -- unless they work for a handful of media companies that dominate the tech giant’s news app.
More than 75% of Apple News UK's top stories – which are said to be handpicked by human editors robots haven’t yet replaced – come from just six sources in the United Kingdom. Sky News, BBC News, TheTelegraph, TheSun and ESI Media’s Evening Standard and The Independent dominate the selection of featured stories.
That’s the finding by Peter Brown, a researcher at Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The U.K. study follows earlier research that determined Apple News disproportionately favors a small group of big U.S. media companies.
That bias for bigness was reflected in the @AppleNews account on Twitter, which relied on CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal for 28% of its story mentions.
The findings cast doubt on Apple’s earlier claims about the importance of editors. The iPhone maker has touted its human touch when it comes to news, emphasizing its status as the “un-Facebook.”
“For Apple News, we felt top stories should be selected by humans to make sure you’re not picking content that strictly has the goal of enraging people,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said at a conference in June.
It was clearly a swipe at rivals like Facebook, Google and Twitter that benefit when users get worked up over divisive issues and post abusive messages on their platforms. That’s what’s known as “engagement” in Silicon Valley.
A key impediment to posting content on Apple News is the company’s technical requirements that publishers may not see as financially viable. Apple wants publishers to use the proprietary Apple News Format instead of pointing traffic to their own websites.
Publishers need to use the ANF format to see their articles picked for the “top stories” section, which practically guarantees an on-rush of readership. Facebook and Google also have their own proprietary story formats that aim to boost usage on their platforms.
Because only a handful of big media companies have the financial and human resources to work with the tech companies, the selection of news content gets constrained.
That means Apple News’s editors aren’t entirely at fault for the over-dependence on a small group of publishers. But the tech giant needs more original content if it hopes to transform the publishing industry the same way it up-ended the music business.
As fancy as the term “curation” sounds, it’s one of the most basic editorial functions. Artificial intelligence technology will rapidly speed the development of automated story selection in the next decade. Algorithms already are writing boilerplate stories, such as news about quarterly earnings announcements.
Publishers may find better opportunities ahead as Apple relaunches Texture after acquiring the “Netflix of magazines” this year. The service charges a flat fee of $10 a month for access to more than 200 magazines.
If publishers are given a chance to monetize their content on the platform in a way that makes financial sense, then everyone wins. Especially readers who are given more choice than Apple News’ current offerings.