With Facebook deprioritizing publishers’ content in its news feed again, publishers are casting about for other places to diversify their traffic, including Apple News. But so far, most of the benefits of that platform appear limited to news publishers.
About 25 percent of the 4.5 million who read Michael Wolff’s buzzy New York magazine article about Donald Trump did so on Apple News. An exec at a comScore 200 news publisher, requesting anonymity, said in 2017, his site’s Apple News traffic doubled to 10 million readers a month. For The Washington Post, Apple News traffic is growing and among the newspaper’s top four sources of referral traffic, said Dave Merrell, lead product manager at the Post. At Boston.com, Apple News outstripped referral traffic from Facebook in December.
But Apple News remains tough for lifestyle publishers, according to conversations with seven publisher executives, which is problematic because they depend on Facebook more than other publishers. About 87 percent of the referral traffic for lifestyle articles comes from Facebook, according to Parsely. For comparison, between 15 and 60 percent of the traffic for business and political content comes from Facebook, per Parsely.
Outside Magazine and Ranker haven’t adopted Apple News yet because they’re unsure it is worth integrating and monitoring another traffic source where their evergreen content is unlikely to catch fire. LittleThings and Kiplinger get less than 5 percent of their referral traffic from Apple News. News publishers are driving traffic from Apple News, but some remain cautious about publishing all of their content on the platform since they’ve struggled to make money from it. Apple declined to comment on the record for this story.
After testing Apple News for a month and obtaining under 500,000 readers, a millennial lifestyle site dropped the platform, said one of its executives, speaking on condition of anonymity. In the weeks following Facebook’s news feed change, publishers may get more serious about deriving traffic from other sources, but in the opinion of this exec, lifestyle publishers simply aren’t Apple’s priority.
Apple News tends to surface and push stories about what’s happening in the world today. For lifestyle publishers looking to wean themselves off Facebook, Apple News doesn’t work well as a referral traffic substitute.
“It’s called Apple News for a reason,” one publisher source quipped.
Even publishers that are getting audience on Apple News still have problems with it. Many publishers struggle to monetize their content on Apple News because advertising hasn’t been a priority of Apple’s. Daniel Hallac, chief product officer at New York magazine, acknowledged that monetization on Apple News isn’t as great as it is on owned-and-operated properties.
But Hallac believes Apple News monetization will improve considerably once it integrates Google’s DoubleClick ad server into its platform. Multiple sources speculated this could happen by the end of the first quarter. The integration with DoubleClick would allow publishers to pipe ads into their Apple News articles that they already serve on their own websites.
Apple News provides about 5 percent of New York magazine’s referral traffic per month, and Hallac wants to continue growing traffic on the platform to diversify where New York gets its readers.
“It is unhealthy to be attached to any one referral source,” he said.