Rocky Start for Apple News App

applenews2For the 100+ publishers that signed up for the program, the data coming back has a sour taste.

“Since it launched last September, Apple Inc.’s News app has attracted more than 100 publishing partners world-wide hoping to capitalize on the growing consumption of news on mobile devices,” write Jack Marshall and Steven Perlberg in The Wall Street Journal. “There is one major problem: Neither media companies nor Apple know how many people are reading.”

According to the story, Apple has been having a lot of trouble getting a handle on how many readers are viewing each piece. And without that info, publishers are having a lot of trouble trying to figure out if it’s working.

“Publishers don’t pay to post their content to the News app, but getting an accurate tally of users is important because it can affect their ability to sell advertising and to manage their resources accordingly,” Marshall and Perlberg note.  “Apple allows publishers to keep 100% of revenue when they sell their own ads into the app; they keep 70% of ad revenue if Apple sells ads on their behalf.”

The problem with Apple News first surfaced back in November, when one publisher was quoted as calling Apple News’ performance “underwhelming,” citing reporting issues like the ones noted in the WSJ article in which reader numbers are being underestimated.

“We’re in the process of fixing that now, but our numbers are lower than reality,” said Apple’s Eddy Cue.  “We don’t know what the right number is.”

Some publishers continue to question where all the readers are.

“The traffic has been modest relative to the enormous install base of iOS devices,” said Julie Hansen, president of Business Insider, which Marshall and Perlberg note are publishing all of its digital content to Apple News. Other publishers are echoing similar concerns.

There is still a fair amount of optimism out there that Apple will eventually sort itself out — although we have to wonder if it’s partly wishful thinking. With the enormous increases in ad blocking, Apple News and the similar Facebook Instant Articles are increasingly important to digital ad revenue.