The news that Apple would be devoting some of the time at its March 25 Special Event to demoing a new paid subscription news service is a hell of a lot less surprising than it would have been even a year ago.
After all, it’s gotten a lot harder to read free news stories on the internet since then. Since the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal declared 2018 as the beginning of the “new paywall era,” paywalls have sprouted up across the internet like mushrooms. In addition to the Wired paywall that inspired Madrigal’s original essay, paywalls went on to go up at Quartz, New York Media, Yahoo! Finance, Business Insider, and Vanity Fair, to name a few.
People didn’t seem to mind at first. In 2017, the number of people willing to pay for online news nearly doubled, according to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s 2018 Digital News Report. But that early wave of paywalls was enough to start getting annoying: After nearly doubling, the share of willing, paying customers for online news held steady at just 16 percent, Reuters survey found.
Apple’s new product, if the company can pull it off, could help change the hearts and minds of some of those 84 percent of consumers who think online news should always be free.
After all, most consumers have gotten used to being able to get national news from one outlet, sports news from another; news about their industry from yet another outlet, and stories that simply interest them from a multitude of places. At between $10 and $20 a month, those subscription costs add up fast. Can Apple’s new bundle meet consumer expectations, pay out enough to keep publishers happy, and help us all avert succumbing to the once-inevitable subscription hell?
Apple News Subscription Service: Release Date
Apple is expected to launch the subscription service at the March 25 special event, according to news that was first reported by BuzzFeed. If that pans out, Apple’s news service could be available right away, as was the case when Apple introduced movies to the iTunes store.
A more apt point of comparison, however, is probably the launch of Apple’s music streaming product Apple Music, which was first announced on June 8, 2015 before being released about 3 weeks later on June 30. Apple Music launched in 100 countries to start, which may have accounted for the lag, but wrangling media publishers doesn’t appear to be going much more smoothly than wrangling international music distribution rights, so it seems reasonable to expect at least some delay between the announcement and the launch.
Apple News Subscription Service: Price
Apple’s news product is expected to cost about $10. This makes sense, that’s kind of going rate for a streaming service nowadays, at least in music and video streaming.
The Wall Street Journal also reported some details about its negotiations with Apple which suggested that publishers were offered a 50 percent cut on subscription fees of about $10 per person. Finally, in preparation for this launch, Apple also acquired a magazine subscription bundling service called Texture last year. It offers access to 200 magazines for — you guessed it! — $10 a month.
Apple News Subscription Service: Available Content
Texture’s library, plus some details snooped out in the iOS 12.2 developers beta by Steve Troughton-Smith give us a pretty good idea of the magazines that will be available, as well as what other features Apple has cooked up to try and make the bundle worthwhile. One of the big allures, according to Troughton-Smith, is that Apple’s news subscription service will let users save content for offline viewing.
The beta code also included the names of all the different genres of available magazines, which aren’t all that revealing but do seem to line up with Texture’s offerings. That suggests the magazine offerings at least will be similar (some of the most popular subscriptions on the current version of Texture include People, Better Homes & Gardens, Time, Forbes, Sports Illustrated, Entertainment Weekly, the Atlantic, and all the big Conde Nast properties.)
Apple News Subscription Service: Will Newspapers Sign On?
Of course, you’ve been able to access all those magazines for a reasonable fee for some time — that’s not new. The big question, then, is whether Apple will be able to successfully recruit the big news dailies under its umbrella.
Few of the most popular magazines in Texture’s stable are dailies, whereas major newspaper outlets like the New York Times and The Washington Post produce round-the-clock coverage every day. As digital media employees are sometimes known to whimper to themselves at night as they try to fall sleep, news content is both difficult to produce and less advertiser-friendly than the features you typically see in magazines.
It’s little surprise then that it’s the newspapers who are reportedly a little skeptical of Apple’s bargain, which has the tech company taking about half the revenue from shared subscriptions. At the same time, Apple needs them if they’re going to announce a product that’s all that different from the subscription bundles that are already out there.
Finally, newspapers are finally starting to figure out how to go it alone, without relying on a platform’s scale to increase the value of their ads. Digital revenue growth has been so strong at the Times that the paper increased its target to 10 million subscribers by 2025, according to the company’s latest earnings report. Apple may be overestimating how much it has to offer.