The New York Times left Apple News. Were you surprised? We weren’t, and we'll tell you why.
On June 29th, the New York Times released an article mentioning that they terminated their relationship with the AppleNews platform. The reasons they gave were simple, however crucial and relevant to the objectives of why Publica exists today.
The New York Times article published about this issue mentioned a couple of important reasons that made them decide to leave AppleNews. First and foremost, [Apple News] “did not align with its strategy of building direct relationships with paying readers.” The second was that the platform keeps readers on the Apple App, and disconnects them from their main website. Third, the subscription formats conflicted with their objectives: they were mainly seduced by AppleNews+ to attract readers that otherwise they would not get but did not generate a proper amount of profit from it. Here, we’ll walk you through what happened and how it is crucial for us.
Though the market of printed newspapers and magazines had been silently fading away, the release of AppleNews in 2015 made everyone in the industry excited. AppleNews brought a revolutionary sales format that benefited both Apple users and the media industry. The platform’s release meant having a newsstand installed in every Mac device in the world. Of course, while Apple users now could choose what to purchase from a centralized app, companies had only to produce the content, publish it, and wait for their readers to open their computers every day.
The Subscription Era
However, back in the day, (and this one is for the Apple users in the room), you might remember how every Apple App in our devices used to look like a small individual store, where every song, album, movie, newspaper, magazine, and book had its individual price. That sales model worked mostly for the US and left the rest of the world pretty much out of it. The Subscription phenomenon came as a thriving market strategy to make content available focused on consumption (not ownership) to everyone worldwide. It naturally took the spotlight away from individual online sellings.
Impulsed by platforms like Netflix and Spotify, this “subscription era” created a more convenient market for those who were looking to pay small amounts of money for endless hours of content for streaming. It became crazily convenient for most of us. Law-enforcement institutions loved it because it made piracy naturally decrease. We loved it because it was a better alternative to having to pay each content, one by one, and keep it forever. That, for a lot of us, did not fit our possibilities or standards. As users of the Subscription era, we may not desire to own the content we consume anymore. We just want a way to be able to stream it, and that’s it. So with all this fuss surrounding the new subscriptions bubble, by 2019, Apple presented AppleNews+.
AppleNews+ aimed to be the same as the old AppleNews but with a subscription format. Like Netflix, Spotify, Youtube, AppleMusic, AppleTV, and many more, this format meant creating an accessible News subscription for the Apple masses. A user pays a monthly subscription that allows them to have unlimited access to all the news outlets out there.
OK. Everything sounds great for both users and the producers until the Third-Party crisis starts becoming evident. And that is what happened with the New York Times.
In “The Subscription Era,” there is an underlying rule that most subscription-based platforms follow: Centralization of content.
Centralized content is a convenient format for both users and small-to-medium businesses only. All content is streamed in only one platform, where users engage and discover things that otherwise would not be facilitated to them. The not-so-known media becomes more accessible to everyone out there. (Still, it does not guarantee that it will be consumed).
On the other hand, if you are a leading institution like the NYT, you know that many users initially signed up on the AppleNews+ platform because they had you in it. Most likely, they keep paying because you are there and will stop paying if you leave. (Similar case happened with Disney and Netflix). In these cases, the issue not only lies in the questionable dynamics of content concentration but also at a bigger problem rooted in Data Ownership. As a company embedded in a Third-Party-involved platform, you do not get to understand and know what happens with your content once it gets uploaded in the App. Companies like The New York Times, would upload content each day and not have a clear sense of the metrics related to their content. Their only reliable parameters probably were the star-rating system given by some users and an approximation of their monthly readers.
This sets a fundamental problem not only in the Data Market but also in their content-based decisions. To understand deeply what your next steps are regarding the content you create, you must have a common ground and alignment with the audience’s response to your content. YouTube, for example, lets you know your likes and views. As an editor, writer, publisher, bookseller, Magazine, or Newspaper, it is indispensable that you have a toolkit of metrics you can follow to understand the trends and traffic created by the content you upload. Knowing how many stars your article got is not enough. However, knowing where your readers are from, their reading time, which was the most striking part of your publication, what is the most used reading device out there, their subscription status, etc., is something that companies need to have available in order to craft quality content. The tools for data ownership are out there; companies like Apple only need to facilitate these to their partners.
On the other hand, if you think twice, granting this much information to their partners would mean a disparity in the share of their subscription-format. Companies like the New York Times would know that many new users of the platform sprout only because of them, and that would naturally put the amount of profit previously agreed with AppleNews+ in dispute. According to the NYT article, Apple takes around 30% commission for every subscription, 50% goes to the shared pool among the rest of the newsletters, and only 20% is left for profit. This obviously creates an unequal stage for content-makers, since it implicitly states that the most valuable asset they offer is the centralized platform, not the quality of their content produced.
The centralized platform format also creates a not-so-evident issue for the business formats of companies like NYT. Apps users are only beneficial if they are kept inside the App. They thus are not taken to the writer’s website, nor need to interact with it. Therefore, companies become blind to their traffic, lose advertising power, and the profit that comes with it. If a company depends on ads, such as independent journalism does, it not only breaks the fuel of independent quality journalism dynamics, as the NYT said in their article, but it literally degrades their business plans!
Finally, these small issues in the centralized subscription format become like a “darkroom” for content-makers. All they do is to deliver content and end up not having a chance of interacting with their users in meaningful ways. The centralized subscription format is just an automated way of merely seeding a platform with input expecting profitable output. But it cuts the endless ties that a company could be establishing with its audience. They could be offering exclusive content, discounts, interacting with long-time readers, or even get in touch with them individually if they wished to do so. In large centralized formats, content creators miss out on this valuable information that could be of great help for the architecture of their company, content, and objectives.
These issues are all connected, and they do not surprise us. In fact, this is why we exist, and this is why we are here to stay. Publica started as a small business that believed that publishing companies should have the opportunity to do business with their customers (B2C). This is why we made a platform uniquely designed to erase any third-party involvement. We believe that any business, small or big, should have the necessary conditions to establish compelling interactions with customers if they wish to do so. We believe in the power of Data ownership. Thus we believe that your data analysis and usage of it is yours to make and keep for the sake of your companies’ decisions and path.
We also believe that you get to decide which content is worth creating subscription packages and which content you believe should be sold individually. We don’t get in the way of you and your platform, and you are free to create whatever changes you want at whatever point in time you believe.
Moreover, instead of centralizing your content in one App, we believe that decentralization is the key to your business success. That way, you and your team are the architects that create the conditions necessary to benefit your websites, social media outlets, and your content store in harmonious ways. You get to engineer the roads that connect the content in your bookshop and the content on your website. We made Publica so you can create a healthy ecosystem between all your traffic outlets without fearing the centralization of all your users.
Most importantly, in Publica, 90% of your earnings are yours to keep. You won’t have to worry about unsustainable losses and decisions. Your profits will match the content consumed by your customers, and your customers will be yours to learn from and interact with.
We offer you the platform, the tools, and your ownership over your data and content. You have the freedom to do the rest however you want.
— — — — — — — — — —
With over 100 customers in sixteen countries, a million active users, and a focus on excellence in digital publication retailing, Publica empowers booksellers, publishers, and media companies to directly market and sell any of thousands of ebooks, audiobooks, PDFs, digital periodicals, illustrated and interactive eBooks, and more.
Unlike in other digital retailing systems, there are no special apps for readers to download, and no hardware to buy. Just instant fully secured access to books and publications on any device.
For booksellers, including publishers selling direct, independent bookstores, and organizations with engaged memberships, Publica’s market-seasoned service is the proven way to grow both revenue and customer base — with access to user emails (with contact permissions), control over the product mix, and a full set of usage analytics.
Global in scope and by design, Publica’s ever-growing reach spans Latin America (including Mexico and Central and South America), Western Europe, and South Asia, with an aggressive 2020 entry into the North American market led by our accomplished, San Francisco-based online retailing and marketing team. We very much look forward to making your books available for sale on Publica.