Commentary

How Apple News+ Can Turn Print Articles Into Podcasts

Podcasts have experienced a surge in popularity in the past year as more people consume audio content on their smartphones. Now, publishers are well positioned to take advantage of that growth.

A test version of Apple's digital newsstand shows how they soon can turn text articles into a spoken-word format for on-the-go readers.

9toMac, a consumer technology website that regularly pries into Apple's latest products and services, has offered a demonstration of the iPhone maker's "Apple News+ Audio" feature that's in early-stage tests. The service will let publishers create audio versions of articles, giving readers a way to listen to their favorite magazines while they're doing other things.

The audio feature will be part of a future version of Apple News+, which charges $10 a month for access to hundreds of magazines from publishers that include Hearst, Meredith, Condé Nast, Trusted Media Brands and National Geographic.

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Presumably, those publishers will have to decide which stories they want to record in an audio format, which could be a costly and time-consuming process that may not be worth the effort. While Apple's Siri voice assistant can help people find audio content from other sources, it currently doesn't read the news aloud.

Those audio production costs would be worthwhile if Apple News+ had a sufficient audience for publishers to monetize. The service reportedly stalled at about 200,000 subscribers after launching last year, a fraction of the 100 million people who get their news on the free-to-use Apple News app that aggregates publisher content.

To grow the audience for Apple News+, the company likely will have to bundle it with other paid services, like Apple Music, which I'm willing to estimate has about 75 million subscribers worldwide based on publicly available metrics.

Apple TV+, which costs $5 a month for ad-free viewing of streaming video, reached 10 million subscribers within months of its launch last fall, Bloomberg News reported.

Apple News+ has greater potential to make magazine content much more dynamic, though production costs will remain a significant concern for publishers. Most content is in a static form that's difficult to read while using the pinch-zoom feature of an iPhone.

Some titles, like Hearst's Cosmopolitanmagazine, now have video snippets to supplement their cover shots -- making them much more expressive than still photos. But most magazines in Apple News+ have stuck with traditional layouts that amount to digital versions of their print products.

The addition of audio will make Apple News+ more versatile, possibly boosting its appeal among the estimated 90 million U.S. consumers who listen to podcasts, to cite data from Edison Research. However, publishers will have to consider the costs associated with creating audio content when Apple News+'s audience is so limited.

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