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Apple News+ to make ‘tweaks’ after disappointing performance for publishers and users

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In news that will shock nobody, Apple News+ seems to be struggling with both publishers and users just over two months after launching the $9.99 a month subscription service, which brings together over 300 publishers into a bundled all-you-can-read app.

According to Business Insider, Apple News is now looking to go back to the drawing board with Apple News+, with some publishing executives saying that Apple News’ team had asked for retrospective input from them in meetings since the product’s launch.

A ‘confusing’ user experience

Apple has allegedly acknowledged that there is confusion among users about the difference between free articles in Apple News, which has existed as an aggregator since 2015, and the new paid content in Apple News+.

Plus content is also receiving limited promotion, with little fanfare aside from putting some Plus-labelled stories in front of users in the free part of Apple News.

Plus was given away as a free trial for the first month, racking up around 200,000 subscribers, but it’s unclear how many of these have actually translated through to the paid monthly service.

Additionally, the decision to combine magazine and news content appears to be causing issues, with some publishers saying that the app’s magazine-centric layout isn’t suited to news content.

Some users have reported that the mix of PDF magazines and magazine articles is confusing, and that the pinch-and-zoom experience of reading scanned magazine pages makes for a poor reading experience.

Image via MacRumors

Given that the intent and reading experiences between news and magazine content is fundamentally different, this will be a tough challenge to overcome, even for Apple’s world-class design teams.

Apple is now on a ‘listening tour, and tweaking the product…making it more intuitive for users while addressing publisher-side concerns,’ according to Business Insider.

Inevitable revenue concerns

Many publishing and media experts raised their eyebrows when the service was first announced, and there was widespread outrage when rumours spread of Apple looking to take a 50% cut. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the service is having a rocky ride this early on.

The service may be just a few months old, but publishers so far are unimpressed with the revenue they’re getting, according to a report late last week. Publishing executives have said that the revenue was one twentieth of what Apple had initially promised, with one saying that it was on par with what they had earned from its predecessor Texture, which was itself a negligible subscription driver before being bought by Apple.

Although there are still scant details available about how the payment structure works, publications are apparently paid based on the time users spend with them, after Apple takes its 50% share.

The Wall Street Journal is one publisher who has admitted to seeing ‘minimal’ impact on subs from Apple News+. CMO Suzi Watford said in an interview last month that “We’re very comfortable—it hasn’t had much of an impact on the core business.

“It is a very different experience reading the Wall Street Journal on Apple News versus reading it on our platform.”

Are ‘tweaks’ enough to make it work?

(Probably not).

Some publishers are optimistic that Apple News+ can make good on its promises once the kinks are ironed out, according to Business Insider. The company has the experience with other subscription platforms like Apple Music, and arguably the scale to make some decent revenue, if it puts more effort into marketing Plus.

But all the marketing in the world may not be enough to overcome the fundamental contradictions and flaws within the app, and the wider concept in the long term.

Most of the paid ‘bundled’ news apps on the market have struggled to scrape together more than a few hundred thousand subscribers, and the subsequent revenue generated is a long way off ‘saving’ news. It’s an industry that faces a very different dynamic to music and television. A Spotify or Netflix model won’t help here.

The more we learn about Apple News+, the more it becomes apparent that Apple simply doesn’t understand the publishing industry. 

Coming up with an app that encompassed both news and magazines, responsive articles and PDFs, demonstrates that they are approaching a very nuanced and challenging market with a heavy Silicon Valley hammer, and expecting to be able to bash it all into one profitable app.