Sorry, Apple News, You’re Out of Alignment

‘We want relationships with our readers; and you aren’t allowing that to happen.’

That’s the basic message the New York Times just sent to Apple as they backed out of their partnership with Apple News, according to this article in the NYT.

“Starting on Monday, Times articles were no longer appearing alongside those from other publications in the curated Apple News feed available on Apple devices,” the article explains.

Last fall we reported that the jury was still out on Apple News, with many publishers expressing skepticism that the partnership was worth the cost of the artificial barriers between the news and its readers. 

Now, the Times may be leading the way for others to pull out, saying the partnership doesn’t strategically align with their business goals – in particular, growing their subscriber base, an important focus since 2017. 

“Core to a healthy model between The Times and the platforms is a direct path for sending those readers back into our environments, where we control the presentation of our report, the relationships with our readers and the nature of our business rules,” Meredith Kopit Levien, chief operating officer, wrote in a memo to employees. “Our relationship with Apple News does not fit within these parameters.” 

If it all sounds vaguely familiar, that’s no surprise. Facebook’s Instant Articles and Google News both found lackluster support by big media brands that actually aim to sell their content. As the Times article notes, the relationship between news organizations and tech platforms could be marked “Complicated.” 

“Companies like Google and Facebook have decimated newspaper advertising sales and disintermediated news sites by positioning their own platforms as one of the main ways that people can consume news,” the article notes. 

Apple looked like a better possibility since they didn’t compete with news sites for ad revenue. They also had a more realistic treatment of what actually constitutes “news,” with humans used to rank top stories.

So when they launched Apple News +, a subscription service that offered a Netflix-style binge of various news sites, some publishers went along. Subscription revenues were not impressive, and most publishers were underwhelmed. Ultimately, it didn’t fit the model of paid news that the Times and other legitimate news organizations rely on.

“We tend to be quite leery about the idea of almost habituating people to find our journalism somewhere else,” said Mark Thompson, The Times’ chief executive. Last month they reported a subscriber base of over six million, with digital subscription revenues rising.

Maybe it’s a reflection of the times that readers are becoming more discriminate in where they get their news. Maybe it’s a good sign that the days of endlessly scrolling for something to catch the eye is being phased out by a more thoughtful approach to content consumption.

We can only hope. Meanwhile, expect more news brands to follow The Times’ lead.