By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Apple News Plus: Promising, or just another example of promises, promises?

Photo (cc) 2019 by Lisa Main Johnson

There was a time in the not-too-distant past when news organizations were all-in on social media as a way to distribute their journalism. But that was then. In recent years, Facebook has fiddled with its algorithm repeatedly in order to play down the amount of news that will show up in users’ feeds. Actual partnerships with the likes of The Washington Post are a thing of the past. Google is unreliable. And let’s not get started with what has happened to Twitter/X, the other main source of click-throughs to news stories.

To compensate, media outlets doubled down on newsletters, which don’t drive as much traffic as social but which do have the advantage of being under their control. Of course, all this is playing out at a time when many if not most newspapers and magazines have put their journalism behind paywalls, which further degrades the value of relying on social. A click from Twitter doesn’t mean much if the clicker can’t read the story they’re interested in or — more to the point — see the ads.

Now we’re experiencing a bit of excitement over a newish platform: Apple News Plus. The free version comes preinstalled on everyone’s iPhones and Macs. For $12.99 a month, you get a whole lot more (though not The New York Times, which is skeptical).

Apple News Plus got a big boost earlier this week when Semafor media reporter Max Tani wrote a mostly favorable story. He begins with quite an anecdote about The Daily Beast, which had been on the ropes as its reliance on Facebook and Google was resulting in a dwindling number of clicks. Thanks to its partnership with Apple News Plus, though, the Beast is on track to earn between $3 million and $4 million this year, more than its own in-house subscription program.

Better yet, you don’t have to click through. Stories load instantly and in many cases are more attractive than the publications’ own websites. Tani writes:

The Beast is hardly alone in its increased reliance on the iOS [and Mac] news aggregator. The free version of Apple News has been a source of audience attention for news publishers since it launched in 2015. But while many publishers have come to the conclusion that traffic has less business value than they once thought, they’re still desperate for revenue. Executives at companies including Condé Nast, Penske Media, Vox, Hearst, and Time all told Semafor that Apple News+ has come to represent a substantial stream of direct revenue.

Which raises a question: Haven’t we been down this road before? Indeed, Facebook and Google both experimented with partnering with news organizations and republishing their content on its own platforms, but those arrangements ultimately came to a bad end. Needless to say, Apple News Plus also privileges national publications over local media outlets. Tani mentions partnerships with large regional newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but it’s hard to imagine that they’ll get down to the level of hyperlocals that cover small communities and neighborhoods.

Chris Krewson, the executive director of LION (Local Independent Online News) Publishers put it this way on Twitter: “Every time I watch this movie the ending is the same.”

Let me point out another problem. A few large newspapers, both national (principally the Times and The Wall Street Journal) and regional (including The Boston Globe and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis), have achieved profitability on the strength of digital subscriptions. Key to that is that they get all the revenue. The Globe’s non-discounted digital subscription rate of $30 a month is more than double what you’d pay Apple, and that money is being split among all of the media partners that are taking part, as well as with Apple itself.

Journalism is expensive, and news organizations with large reporting staffs need as much subscription revenue as they can get. What Apple is offering, essentially, is iTunes for news, an idea that the late David Carr was promoting 15 years ago. There are good reasons it’s never caught on — until now, maybe.

Long-term, no tech company is going to be a reliable partner for news organizations. Apple is attractive in ways that Facebook and Twitter never were: it’s not a social network, and charging subscriptions for users provides a more solid underpinning than anything the platforms offered. And of course journalism should take advantage of what Apple is offering. At this late date, I think every news executive knows the rug could be pulled out from under them at any moment. But they ought to take the money while it’s there.

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  1. Mike LaBonte

    I like Apple News Plus, but I find that the associated daily doesn’t engage as much as it could. The value is that the price is about right for the content I actually read, for a fraction of the cost of subscribing to everything.

    On that topic, why are we still waiting for ClickShare to take off? Basically EZPass for news, it seems like a great idea. Maybe too many greedy players? I’m tempted to think Apple News could become that, but Apple always begins from a position of greed. I wonder if Bill Densmore would have any stories to tell about ClickShare.

    • Hi Mike,

      Spotify supports a strong argument that consumers would appreciate a service offering a one-account, one-login, one bill solution for news. Apple News+ in that sense is a great consumer value proposition. The problem is that the user relationship is controlled by Apple (as it was / is with Google and Facebook) rather than by the content-creator/aggregator — the news organization.

      I still feel strongly that a protocol for news exchange — “newshare” — needs to be governed by a. nonprofit such as the Information Trust Exchange Governing Association ( so that there is no single “Big Brother” who controls retail pricing or a take-it-or-leave-it account relationship. Let news consumers select one most-trusted news provider — or several — but the process of sharing revenue on a wholesale-retail basis could be standardized.

      As for Clickshare Service Corp., CEO Rick Lerner is working closely with Paul Trevethick to field a public-benefit governed ecosystem that will finally bring user identity and privacy under the active control of the user. Imagine what would be possible if it were funded and backed by a coalition of the most important foundations focused on democracy and news, as well as key publishers and trade associations such as the News Media Alliance and the Local Media Consortium? The idea is not to consort particularly with Google, or poke them in the eye, but just proceed in the public (and publisher) interest and let Google do as it wishes. Might antitrust regulators see that as something to encourage? Take a look at

      The wholesale-retail implementation was demonstrated and patented by Clickshare in the 1990s, but the patent has now expired for term so there is no reason why the idea couldn’t form the basis of a public-benefit governed service.


      Also see:

      It’s deeply frustrating that owners of news intellectual property have failed ever since the New Century Network to realize that they must hang together or hang separately — and do so in a way that promotes competition, not collusion.

      • Mike LaBonte

        Hi Bill,

        A quick mention of your name and we get a fire hose of information, thanks!

        Glad to see Paul Trevithick actively engaging; I see he co-authored white papers on the Mee Foundation GitHub. I hadn’t considered the privacy protection aspect, that’s a nice bonus above and beyond making it easier to pay for news.

        This subject might be opaque for some readers. But the title of the ITEGA “Federated Single Sign On for Publishers” project might make it a bit easier to understand. Most of us are familiar with SSO even if we never heard it called that. We can use our Microsoft, Facebook and Google accounts to login many places, for example. But it needs to be someone we trust not to exploit the data conveyed by SSO logins.

        And then there is the payment side. My vision of the Clickshare idea was that we would have say a credit card on file somewhere and it would be charged now and then to cover pay-per-view micropayments for each piece of content we access, the way EZPass works for tolls. Not the case?

        And is there any reason this would not scale down to community news? For example, might the New Haven Independent benefit as much as Vanity Fair?

        Anyway, glad to hear there is movement toward a means of paying for news the way we (or at least I) wish we could pay, with a privacy bonus.

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