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The Apple News anticlimax

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Last month, when terms of Apple's new deal for journalism were announced, I warned that it looked lik
 
March 25 · Issue #303 · View online
The Interface
Last month, when terms of Apple’s new deal for journalism were announced, I warned that it looked like a bad deal for publishers. The company was asking for 50 percent of all revenue, and planned to pay on the basis of how frequently readers consumed a publisher’s articles. And just as on Facebook and Google News before it, publishers would get no control over the placement of their stories, or direct relationship with their subscribers. It was one more algorithm standing in between journalists and their audiences — and at a time when digital media companies are rapidly shedding jobs, Apple’s offer looked truly grim.
It was all the more surprising when, in the days leading up to today’s announcement, it was reported that the Wall Street Journal would be part of Apple’s $9.99 monthly bundle. An annual subscription to the Journal costs hundreds of dollars — why would the company undercut itself so steeply?
Today we learned the answer: it would not. CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that, according to an internal Journal memo, Apple News+ subscribers would get access to “a curated collection of general interest news.” More Journal articles may be available inside the app — but the idea seems to be that they will basically be impossible to find, Journal reporter Amol Sharma reported. Apple News+ subscribers will see a cordoned-off Journal zone of commodity general-interest news, and the publisher seems to expect that most users won’t seek much beyond that.
As described, it’s an odd arrangement. On one hand, the Journal is giving away hundreds of dollars worth of stories for some unknown, varying fraction of $9.99 a month. On the other hand, the company betting — and not without reason — that no actual Journal user wants to read the newspaper this way. And with a billion active iOS device users now available to them with a couple of taps, anyone who opts in is basically free money.
This is also the logic that leads magazine publishers to include themselves in such bundles, and many of them have been doing it for a long time. In addition to Texture, the subscription magazine service that Apple acquired to build News+, Scribd has offered magazines as part of its bundle since last year. Apple said today that 300 magazines will be part of Apple News+, including ones you might actually want to read, such as The New YorkerThe AtlanticNational Geographic, and Vogue
I care about how news gets funded and distributed because the quality of our information sphere is connected directly to the health of our democracy. When publishers are too weak to negotiate deals that will pay for the cost of their journalism, we all suffer. That Apple has more than $200 billion in cash on hand adds insult to injury.
And yet when I look at the Journal’s deal with Apple … I don’t hate it? Sure, 50 percent is a ludicrous tax to put on a publisher, particularly one that publishes the caliber of news that the Journal does. But I think you can argue fairly that any revenue earned from this program is found money, and will not cannibalize Journal subscriptions. If casual readers like what they see, it may even generate a few new ones.
What I don’t understand about the Journal deal is the paper’s bet that it will generate way more than a few. In Bloomberg, Gerry Smith reported that the company is hiring 50 more journalists, some of whom may produce Apple-exclusive content. That’s an entire newsroom’s worth of new reporters, and they will cost millions of dollars.
The publisher will hire about 50 more journalists to write articles, some of which could run exclusively on Apple’s service, Lewis said. They’ll focus on nonfinancial beats, like sports, politics, culture and lifestyle. The Journal will likely expand its sports coverage specifically for the service and hire more political reporters, he said.
That’s a much bigger bet than I would make — but Rupert Murdoch has historically been more successful in creating media businesses than I have. (On the other hand, one of those was The Daily, an iPad-exclusive publication that died a quick death when not enough people subscribed to it.)
As for the publishers who held their nose at Apple’s offer — with the New York Times and the Washington Post leading the way — I don’t hate that, either. Both of those publications have seen a huge spike in subscription revenue in the Trump era, empowering them to resist offers like Apple’s in the name of cultivating their own direct relationships with subscribers. Not everyone will thrive in the subscription-revenue era of journalism, but surely the Times and the Post are two of the best positioned to do so. (Here I’ll disclose that The Verge’s parent company, Vox Media, has an offering in the Apple News+ bundle.)
Ultimately, I think all publishers are better served building their own audiences than fending for Apple’s crumbs. The collapse in Facebook traffic to journalism, with its attendant job losses, should be too fresh a memory for anyone want to relive the experience so soon. But if you’re going to fight for scraps, you might as well do it the way the Journal is: giving away the thing anyone could already get elsewhere for free, in exchange for money you never expected to get anyway.

Democracy
Michael Powell on big tech and antitrust
How Twitter's algorithm is amplifying extreme political rhetoric
Pentagon Says All of Google’s Work on Drones Is Exempt From the Freedom of Information Act
Conspiracy Theories Can’t Be Stopped
Anti-Muslim Hate Has Been Rampant on Reddit Since the New Zealand Shooting
Digital Hype Aside, Report Says Political Campaigns Are Mostly Analog Affairs
Elsewhere
He Tried to Bilk Google and Facebook Out of $100 Million With Fake Invoices
Facebook is taking action against anti-vaccine conspiracies. But bogus medical cures are still getting massive reach.
YouTube Bows Out of Hollywood Arms Race With Netflix and Amazon
Mobile time-spent jumps up: YouTube corners ~40% of the traffic, Facebook less than 10%
Human Contact Is Now a Luxury Good
Pinterest files to go public: Booked $756 million last year and claims more than 250 million monthly users
The long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium, 2012–present
Podcast
Facebook’s former chief security officer Alex Stamos on protecting content moderators
Launches
Apple Event 2019: TV plus shows, News, Oprah and biggest announcements
Takes
Mueller and the Conspiracy Around the Corner
After New Zealand, is it time for Facebook Live to be shut down?
A tragedy that calls for more than words: The need for the tech sector to learn and act after events in New Zealand
And finally ...
Quitting Social Media Will Save Your Life. I Think.
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and your favorite Apple event tweets: casey@theverge.com.
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