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Clash of the News tabs: Apple, Google and Facebook square off

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When it comes to Apple, Facebook and Google, the publishing industry hasn’t exactly been a fan.

The tech giants have been repeatedly accused of driving away eyeballs and ad revenue, causing the demise of many a noted publisher, not to mention assisting in the rapid proliferation of fake news.

The silicon valley giants have all come up with their unique solutions to this quandary. Different takes at different times, yet all essentially a variation on the same theme: the News tab.

Google’s News tab has been around for a while now. Apple’s News Plus, just a few months old, sits in its own dedicated center tab on its mobile/tablet app, and Facebook’s dedicated news tab is still in the works.

Evidently “the solution” left something to be desired, as over just a fortnight, we discovered them all at various stages on the drawing boards: either back on it, coming off of it, or still on it.

Apple is going back to the drawing board with Apple News Plus after a slow start for the news-subscription bundle. Facebook plans to roll out its dedicated news tab this year, and Google is redesigning its News tab, prioritizing context and publisher names.

Not only are the tech giants working to reinvigorate their new tabs, they are also taking pains to highlight the value they bring to publishers, with particular emphasis on the tangible numbers.

Every month Google “drives over 10 billion clicks to publishers’ websites, which drive subscriptions and significant ad revenue,” the company announced in a statement to counter a questionable study that Google made $4.7 billion from the news industry in 2018.

Apple News has built its reach to 90 million regular readers, according to the last available information, and Zuckerberg expects Facebook’s dedicated news tab to draw 15% of Facebook users, which would be over 350 million readers, based on the number of monthly active Facebook users worldwide.

Incidentally, Facebook’s tab has already been spotted in the wild, in the Facebook (Beta) app.

The redesign efforts are laudable, and the numbers do look good. But how much of it will truly convert from the drawing board to the real world?

While each platform creates, mends and/or redesigns its solutions… in the clash of the giants, publishers bear the brunt. There are many stories of broken promises between platforms and publishers, and this latest anecdote drives home the real concern.

One publishing exec said Apple projected publishers would get 10 times the revenue they made from Texture at the end of Apple News Plus’ first year. “It’s one twentieth of what they said,” the exec said. “It isn’t coming true.”

Thankfully, this time the platforms are showing a greater inclination to work with the publishers.

Apple News’ team has solicited input from publishing execs in meetings since the launch of Apple News Plus, and those meetings have included Peter Stern, an Apple VP working on its cloud services, and Liz Schimel, the head of news business at Apple News.

Facebook execs have also been holding one-on-one meetings to get feedback on the news tab and other products from publishers who have shown interest in early releases of new Facebook products.

And while it’s not known whether there was any publisher input for the upcoming Google’s News tab redesign, the emphasis on publisher names indicates there may have been. The new design will break out individual articles by publisher, rather than list a collection of links. Google has already formed partnerships with local news organizations, created mechanisms that make it easier for readers to subscribe to publishers, and set up programs to fight fake news.

It might just be that the clash of News tabs is heralding a new dawn in platform-publisher relationships.

Google’s redesigned News tab is due in the next couple of weeks. Facebook’s dedicated news tab is expected later this year, and Apple’s News+ update should follow suit.

Let’s see if this particular square off squares with the publishing community.