Commentary

'New York Times' Cuts Back On Apple News Stories

Apple will make several big announcements March 25 that will affect content producers, including the publishing industry.

Ahead of that splashy event, The New York Timesis pulling back on feeding the iPhone maker’s digital newsstand, Apple News.

Mark Thompson, the CEO of the newspaper’s parent company, deserves high marks for pushing back against tech giants that don’t add any value in the production and distribution of editorial content. That includes Facebook, which seems to pay attention to content only when it spurs outrage and despair, like live-streamed mosque shootings halfway around the world.

“We do not want the principal consumption of The New York Times to be on Facebook,” Thompson said this week at the Oxford Media Convention in England. Still, he praised the social network as a marketing platform, saying the Times' advertisers on Facebook help drive subscriptions.

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Apple next week is expected to introduce a streaming TV service and Apple News Magazines, a digital newsstand that charges a flat fee of $9.99 a month for unrestricted access to hundreds of publications. Apple News is free and includes a mix of stories from news providers and other publishers.

Every publisher needs to consider the advantages and possible downside of working with Apple News Magazines, which will let subscribers download and store publications for offline reading, as reported last week.

A key concern will be cannibalizing audiences from other distribution channels like print, websites or branded apps that give them greater control of subscriber data and interactions with readers. About 85 million people use Apple News, available for free on 1.4 billion active devices, including 900 million iPhones.

That massive audience is enticing to publishers familiar with the strategy of charging low subscription fees to entice more people to sign up for a subscription. By boosting their rate bases, they can attract national brands to buy ads.

However, it’s likely that only a small percentage of Apple’s audience will sign up for Apple News Magazines. The tech giant may be able to bundle the service with its streaming platform to spur wider adoption, similar to Amazon’s strategy of bundling free magazines, movies and original shows with its Amazon Prime service.

As the NYT’s Thompson demonstrates, publishers need to remain confident about the quality of their editorial product and their ability to engage audiences.

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