Apple has rolled out its publisher subscription service, Apple News+, to the U.K. some six months after announcing it in the U.S.
For access to over 150 magazines and newspapers, readers have to pay just £9.99 ($12.29) a month. In the U.K., News Corp’s The Times and Sunday Times and Hearst UK titles — like Cosmopolitan, Elle and Esquire — will now sit alongside The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone and Vox, titles that were announced for the U.S. launch in March.
News UK’s The Times and Sunday Times has a well-developed subscriptions business. In July it hit 500,000 subscribers with digital subscribers overtaking print for the first time, plus a pool of 3.75 million registered users who can read a number of articles a week in exchange for their email address. The move is noteworthy for the prickly relations between News Corp and tech platforms. News Corp CEO Robert Thomson went out of his way to differentiated Apple’s approach.
“Apple has acted positively, honorably and decisively to change the digital landscape, while other gatekeepers, such as Google, prefer hype and hypocrisy,” Thomson said in a statement.
The appeal for publishers being part of the platform depends on how mature their reader-revenue businesses are. Apple News+ and other bundles can work best for mid-tier publishers, especially as more cases of subscription fatigue set in. Those who have more fledgling subscription businesses, or none at all, are also happy to use the platform as a testbed for finding out what content works with cohorts of readers.
Mostly, as was seen in during the U.S. launch, those with longer-running subscriptions businesses aren’t as interested in trading-off the relationship with their audience — while cannibalizing their own product — for access to a wider audience pool. Marquee-name publishers who are on the platform, like The Wall Street Journal and The Times (both under the News Corp umbrella), offer different content to their full product. Publishers speculated there are different financial terms with Apple that include a revenue share. The New Yorker, for example, has the ability to exit the Apple product early because of its own highly developed digital subscriptions business, according to a report from Business Insider.
Chatter around Apple News+ in the U.S. has been relatively quiet compared with the concerns felt at launch. The Wall Street Journal has seen some evidence of cannibalization, which it expected, but more recently that has been below expectations, according to a person familiar with the matter. The platform is fulfilling its role in that the Wall Street Journal is also reaching new audiences who skew female, though it wouldn’t share how many.
“It seems that it hasn’t hurt publishers as much as expected, but not for the right reasons,” said Rob Ristagno CEO at consultancy The Sterling Woods Group. “Mainly it has been a relative failure with consumers so the cannibalization hasn’t been as great as expected.”
Apple wouldn’t disclose how many people have signed up for its product. Subscribers get a one-month free trial before it auto-renews. In the first two days of launch, it said it had 200,000 subscribers, but it’s not clear how many of these have made the switch to full-time payers.
Aside from pulling in a few big-name brands, Apple hasn’t rushed to include U.K. publishers, even those who had good relationships with Apple News, according to one publisher.
“I’ve had zero communication on it,” said the U.K. publishing exec. “To date, Apple has been a breath of fresh air, but this seems to have been led form the U.S. without enough thought about the nuances of the U.K. market. This damages trust.”
As with all publisher relationships with platforms, there are trade-offs to be made, depending on how far advanced publishers’ subscription businesses are. Other features that publishers fretted about during the platform’s U.S. launch were payment terms: Apple will keep 50% of subscription revenue and divide the remaining half among publishers based on readers’ dwell time. Publishers’ gripe is that dwell time doesn’t take into account the cost of creating content and can lead publishers to create content that favors this commercial model.
But the opportunity of being on hundreds of millions of iPhones is tempting. And while publishers have grumbled about the money coming in from Apple News, they have been happy with the traffic it drives, making a lot of sense for building awareness.
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