Third Party Distribution: Too Much of a Crapshoot?

applenews1Publishers are finding that engaging with readers via Apple News and other third party platforms is too random and unreliable to offer a sustainable business model.

Apple News got off to a rocky start. When the third party content system launched last fall, publishers were underwhelmed by the initial results, and Apple staff admitted they really couldn’t tell how many readers were being reached.

The news hasn’t gotten any better, for publishers in general and in particle B2B publishers, noted D. B Hebbard in Talking New Media.

“Publishers, especially B2B publishers, find that reaching readers via the new digital platforms is too much of a crapshoot to be a sustainable business model for them to investment in,” he writes.

Hebbard continues: “…in January Apple’s Eddy Cue, who runs the App Store, and is responsible for the demise of the Newsstand and the mismanagement of the Magazines & Newspapers category, tried to make excuses for the poor readership being seen in the Apple News app.”

The company claims they were “in the process of fixing that” and that “our numbers are lower than reality.”

Maybe so, but the reality for publishers isn’t great.

“The traffic has been modest relative to the enormous install base of iOS devices,” Julie Hansen, president of Business Insider, said in a Wall Street Journal article cited by Hebbard.

Hebbard ties the problem to the same issue that often plagued the Apple Newsstand — and not just the fact that Apple’s Cue headed up both efforts. The problem is  that publishers are helpless to drive exposure if Apple doesn’t choose their content to promote.

“Like the Newsstand, and now the Magazines & Newspapers category, the Apple News app is all about media properties being promoted within it. If your app appeared on the front page of the Newsstand, for instance, there was a good chance your app would see strong downloads,” Hebbard explains.

“But that only lasted as long as the publisher’s app appeared on the front page of the Newsstand as Apple sent out notices regularly to readers reminding them their subscriptions were renewing (and therefore could be cancelled),” he continues.

He notes that Apple News is very much the same… No wonder Apple News tastes sour for many publishers so far. “Readership for most publishers is very low, but for B2B publishers it doesn’t look it will make much sense.”

Hebbard likens it to tossing a magazine into a crowd and hoping a few qualified readers catch it. Not a great strategy, especially in these days of big data and targeting abilities.

Will publishers continue to play along? If Apple News can establish themselves as a place to be seen, perhaps. Otherwise, the wisdom of hyperdistribution remains in question as magazine publishers lose control of the one thing that they’ve gotten really good at creating: a branded reader experience.