Commentary

Apple News+ Shows Promise For Publishers

Apple this week released its “Netflix for magazines” with the latest software update for iPhones and iPads. As an avid reader of magazines, I signed up for a free 30-day trial of the new Apple News+ service and sought to answer my first question: Which print subscriptions can I now cancel?

It looks as if I can cut almost all of them.

Paying $9.99 a month for access to more than 300 magazines will be a big cost savings. I already pay $99 a year for a membership to Amazon Prime, whose Prime Reading service provides access to hundreds of e-reader books and 70 magazines at no additional charge.

The digital versions of some magazines are available on both platforms, including Cosmopolitan, Better Homes & Gardens, Fortune, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, National Geographic, New York, Vanity Fair and Vogue.

Readers who cancel print and digital subscriptions should be worrisome to publishers that want to avoid cannibalizing their readership. That's because an Apple News+ reader isn't nearly as valuable as a paid subscriber for a publisher.

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While Apple lets publishers show the same print ads that are in print versions of magazines, the tech giant doesn’t share the personal data of iPhone and iPad users with publishers and their advertisers.

Limited audience data likely will hinder the marketing efforts of publishers, even though Apple News+ is certified by the Alliance for Audited Media. At least publishers can include their Apple readership on audience reports to advertisers.

One of the most compelling parts of Apple’s publishing platform is its Apple News Format, which gives publishers greater flexibility in how they present their content and advertising. The format lets publishers show animated content, swipe-able photo galleries, resizable text and a table of contents that’s hyperlinked to page numbers.

Only about half of magazines are using Apple News Format, such as National Geographic, whose cover has a video clip that's more eye-catching than a standard static image.

Publishers need to work with advertisers and their agencies to create more dynamic ads in Apple News+, especially to keep pace with social-media platforms. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have added vertical video to their apps to make viewing on mobile devices easier. Those apps also have “stories” ads that string together several swipe-able images into a single post.

The Apple News Format promises greater interactivity with readers, such as letting them respond to calls to action in digital magazine ads.

One of the more disappointing parts of Apple News+ is seeing magazine ads that can’t be clicked. They are as static as any print product. Publishers need to make these ads more interactive to boost the value proposition for marketers.

Many publishers are setting up in-house content studios to specialize in multimedia development for their advertisers.

Apple News+ offers plenty of value for any reader who subscribes to several print and digital publications. A reader of People now paying about $90 a year for 54 issues may feel compelled to cancel that subscription in favor of an Apple News+ membership that offers hundreds of other publications.

In announcing the new service, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the normal cost of subscribing to all those magazines and newspapers is about $8,000 a year.

That may be true, but how much crossover is there among readers of Vogue and Field & Stream? No judgments, but I can’t imagine a reader who seeks guidance on which Gucci timepiece to wear with wetlands camouflage and hunting gear.

The Wall Street Journal doesn’t provide full access to its news content, which is disappointing as a paying news consumer. However, the financial newspaper shouldn’t give away too much content — the WSJ can command a subscription price equaling that of Apple News+.

The Financial Times and The New York Times also are visibly absent from Apple News+, which is a smart business move considering how much the publications charge for subscriptions. It looks like I’m stuck paying $18 a month for the FT.

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