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Sunday 18 August 2019
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Will Apple News save publishers?

Mark Lyndersay
Mark Lyndersay


IN MARCH, Apple introduced a new subscription service, Apple News+, an upgrade to its earlier effort at bringing curated news to users of its devices.

The new version isn’t free. It’s a subscription service, offering at a cost of US$9.99 access to 300 magazines that would normally fill a newsstand.

If newsstands still existed in any significant way any more. Which they don’t, because, well, digital.

From Apple’s perspective, it’s riding in to save quality journalism and make it available to its users, a considerable potential audience. Apple has more than a billion active devices in the market, and Apple News+ will push content on specially designed apps to all of them, including the Apple Watch.

It also launches with a hefty user base. The free version of Apple News had 60 million users in 2018, according to Comscore. Apple recently announced that those numbers had reached 85 million.

Some might be tempted to start paying for their news. In return, Apple wants half of the revenue that the publications generate.

But Apple hasn’t announced plans to follow its iTunes strategy and make Apple News+ a cross-platform revenue play, opening access to an estimated two billion Android devices and 700 million Windows devices. That’s probably going to be a matter that demand decides. Apple won’t leave money on the table if it’s easy to access.

The company has an Apple Music app on Google’s Play store. That app has more than ten million downloads and represents another revenue stream for the Cupertino company.

In response, Facebook has been talking about creating a dedicated news tab for its users, which would feature content it may pay to republish and offer it to its users for free.

Publishers are likely to be skittish about Facebook, whose entire approach to the news business has more in common with a flirty frontline masquerader than any long-term commitment to partnering with news producers.

Facebook wooed publishers first with Instant Articles, which proved to be largely useless at driving traffic to publisher websites, and Facebook Watch, which encouraged “pivots to video” that killed Mic.com and damaged other news producers after the social media company withdrew support and cash from the project.

What’s most surprising about this is that publishers still seem to think that the owners of popular digital ecosystems care about them at all. The demolition of news distribution wrought by Google and Facebook and arguably made worse by their “helpful” interventions should have sent a clear signal that we’re long overdue for a real solution for news distribution that’s built by journalists.

Most publishers and broadcasters are still producing traditional media, but can’t seem to draw the line of evolution between the withering systems of distribution that supported news for most of the 20th century and today’s fractured landscape, which is largely owned by social media platforms and search engines.

What’s needed now isn’t Apple News, Google News or Facebook News, it’s an equivalent and trusted platform for news distribution that’s owned and managed by publishers and broadcasters.

Consider the possibilities of a Caribbean News web portal with robust search capabilities built into user profiles that curated modern linking techniques to online publications.

Will TechNewsTT be on Apple News? Oh yeah. That’s already under way for the same reason there’s a Google AMP version of site posts: links are regularly pushed to social media and Google News and my third effort at revamping an e-mail newsletter is in development.

Publishers and broadcasters need readers and viewers first, but an effort, particularly locally, to partner on addressing the audience problem is long overdue.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of technewstt.com. An expanded version of this column can be found there

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