Commentary

Will Apple's Planned Subscription Bundle Lift Its Digital Newsstand?

Apple is weighing whether to bundle its paid services, like its Apple News+ digital newsstand, to boost subscribers.Citing unnamed sources, Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Apple is including a provision in agreements with publishers that allows for the bundlingof Apple News+ with recently launched services, such as Apple TV+ video streaming and Apple Arcade gaming.

By bundling the services, Apple would sweeten the value proposition for customers and possibly drive greater readership for publishers whose magazines are in Apple News+, which charges $9.99 a month for access to hundreds of print titles. In talking to publishing executives, I've heard the digital newsstand isn't generating significant revenue for them.

I've subscribed to Apple News+ since it was introduced in March, and I've been mostly disappointed with it. Many magazines post digital copies of their print product in a PDF format that's clunky to navigate on a smartphone screen. Readers are required to pinch-zoom pages to make them more legible.

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Other times, Apple News+ freezes on my iPad screen, and needs to be shut down. It's an understatement to say the app is riddled with bugs.

A bundled service offering may indicate that Apple is seeing lackluster response to its menu of services as the company seeks to diversify its revenue beyond the iPhone. The smartphone drives about two-thirds of the company's total revenue, but strong competition from lower-priced rivals has negatively affected sales, especially in China.

Apple appears to be in an innovation rut, rolling out incremental upgrades to products first released when company cofounder Steve Jobs was still alive. The Apple Watch, AirPod wireless headphones and HomePod smart speaker weren't game-changing products like the iPhone. Apple is years away from introducing a wearable augmented-reality device that could supplant smartphones for many people.

The company also needs to improve the marketing for its services.

A study this month showed how Disney completely outshone Apple in launching a streaming video service. Apple rolled out Apple TV+ on Nov. 1 and received about 70,000 mentions on Twitter, according to a study by social-media marketing firm Sprout Social. Disney unveiled Disney+ on Nov. 12 and generated more than 1.1 million mentions on Twitter, or about 16 times what Apple earned.

I haven't subscribed to either service, but I assume they provide the best shows that China's communists will allow. Apple TV+ only costs $5 a month and comes free for a year with a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod touch or Mac. Disney+ costs $7 a month, and can be bundled with Hulu and ESPN+ for an extra $6 a month. Let the bundling wars begin.

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