Full transparency – I am an Apple supporter. From iPods to iPads to iMac to iTunes I have never been displeased.
That likely explains why it feels so strange to harbor such pessimism toward their newest publishing offering which was announced today. Maybe less strange based on the uninspiring history of the previous platform which Apple had contrived to revolutionize the publishing industry.
Remember Newsstand? Newsstand, in case you have already forgot, was a native app pre-installed on all iOS devices as of October 2011. It was an aggregation of magazine and newspaper editions, much like you would find at a physical newsstand, but offered via a digital interface. Apple was confident that the massive consumer carnivore it had created to devour music and apps would translate to the publishing industry. There were many reasons why it did not. Most notable were the inequitable terms Apple offered publishers, it’s unwillingness to share reader demographics to publishers and the ho-hum reading experience offered via the Newsstand interface. Newsstand was shuttered in August of 2015.
“Apple was confident that the massive consumer carnivore it had created to devour music and apps would translate to the publishing industry. “
While Apple was stumbling through understanding how to appease publishers and readers with Newsstand another media conglomerate threw their hat in the ring. Next Issue Media, launched in 2012, was a joint-venture between Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines, Meredith Corporation, News Corp, Rogers Media, and Time Inc.. Next Issue, later re-branded as Texture, was a ‘buffet style’ service which offered hundreds of magazine titles published by the ownership umbrella for a monthly fee. After six years of purported ‘success’ the Texture brand was purchased by none other than Apple in March of 2018.
So what is the next step for Apple?
“Apple has stated that it intends on leveraging the experience it has gained with Apple Music to garner new subscribers to Apple News+”
The most recent iteration of Apple’s publishing adventure will launch today. Apple has announced a revision of the original Texture app (Apple News+) to include newspaper media as a complement to the existing magazine titles. Details are still a little murky at this point (the Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times are verified additions) but the buffet style concept will remain as will a monthly subscription for the all-you-can-consume service. Apple has stated that it intends on leveraging the experience it has gained with Apple Music to garner new subscribers to its publishing app. From a business standpoint publishers are already apprehensive. A recent article by Business Insider rationalizes publisher concerns related to Apple’s recent endeavour.
Was the all-you-can-read platform a success for Next Issue Media? No. There is little information available related to the business details or transaction. The terms of Apples purchase were not reported and Next Issue Media had never divulged subscriber numbers or a valuation prior to the buyout. But, it is rumoured that the total number of paid subscribers, after 6 years in business and nearly 100M invested, was approximately 200,000 at the time of sale. Some basic math suggests that those 200,000 subscribers, which is less than the number of digital subscribers the New York Times acquired in the fourth quarter of 2018, were not providing instant dividends to the ownership group. With 90 millions dollars invested into the venture between the ownership group and private investors the sale was not likely inspired by unmanageable profits.
“Apple would be cannibalizing its own publishing partners.”
The Business Insider article offers plenty of insight into the concerns of members of the publishing industry as it relates to Apple’s next big thing. A major design flaw that erupted across social media threads pointed out how Apple would be cannibalizing its own publishing partners. Subscribers would have access to the all-you-can-read Apple News+ product for a similar, or in some cases lesser, monthly fee than what they are paying for access to a single title. That’s an issue. One that certain titles, such as the New York Times, have already exposed in their polite denial to join the Apple News+ family.
Publisher concerns and Apples failed history in publishing are valid excuses for skepticism. If you are open to an unvalidated opinion; the biggest obstacle that Apple will face with Apple News+ is the assumption that their massive consumer reach will parlay into a voracious appetite for reading.
Apple has eclipsed 1 billion hardware units sold. That is impressive reach especially considering the fanatical nature of Apple customers. It also offers insight into how Apple expects to ramp up periodical subscriptions to match the success it has had with Apple Music.
“The issue is the difference in how we consume music versus textual media.”
The issue is the difference in how we consume music versus textual media. As Dick Clark has been quoted as saying ‘Music is the soundtrack of our lives’. We often listen to music while at task. Whether it be commuting to work, planting a garden, entertaining guests, exercising or – reading - music tends to accompany activity. In my home music is playing every waking moment. Having paid access to an endless chasm of music which travels well and caters to other activities and mood is logical.
Reading, however, does not accompany activity. It is the activity. How much time does the average person spend cuddled up with their favourite periodical? According to a recent survey* from 2017 the average American spends about 17 minutes per day reading for enjoyment. The same survey suggests that time spent on leisure reading has been on the decline since 2003. As expected, older readers (75+) spent the most amount of time reading which would likely be attributed to availability. So what does the average American do for leisure? They watch Game of Thrones, socialize, exercise, play a round of golf or browse online.
With so little time dedicated to casual reading it does not seem logical that readers will be interested in unmitigated access to endless stacks of information. Realistically, this already exists in the form of a library. At no cost. Yet libraries are working hard to remain sustainable.
“On the same day Apple vows to re-revolutionize publishing it releases another product which has lead to the demise of reading”
With hardware market saturation becoming a legitimate concern Apple has been expanding its horizons in search of alternative revenue. The Apple News+ announcement was made alongside a new streaming TV option called Apple TV+. This streaming product will compete with similar streaming content providers such as Netflix. The irony of the announcement is worthy of a verse in an Alanis Morissette song. On the same day Apple vows to re-revolutionize publishing it releases another product which has lead to the demise of reading. Does Apple have the ability to create a cultural shift in leisure priorities? It could be argued it has in the past but I wouldn’t bet on a reversal.