17 August 2020

Digiday: “Apple News+ Safari change automatically redirecting traffic to itself infuriates publishers”

The most recent versions of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, and MacOS Big Sur — its desktop operating system — force Apple News+ customers to use the service more. Under the changes, Apple News+ subscribers who are browsing the web using Safari will be redirected into the Apple News+ app, rather than the participating Apple New+ publisher’s website.

But on principle, publishers are furious that Apple is flexing its muscles in a way that limits their ability to convert readers into subscribers, and did so without telling publishers. Sources at five different publications participating in Apple News+ said Apple did not inform them that these changes were coming. One called it “totally unethical, if not actually illegal”. A second, who noted that Apple is typically more communicative, described it as “a bit shady”.

Max Willens & Lucinda Southern

For perspective, Apple is taking an even larger cut out of publishers’ revenues in News+, 50%, compared to the 30% collected on other subscriptions through the App Store.

Making this change without announcing it to their partners looks deceitful: as a publisher you would notice increased traffic from the Apple News+ app on Apple devices and decreased traffic from the web, leading to the conclusion that people are shifting their reading behavior towards the app. This would incentivize publishers to invest more in partnerships with Apple, benefitting Apple in two different ways: the company would collect more subscriptions revenue without any extra effort – another struggling industry Apple casually prays upon – and undermines the open web, as it has done numerous times before. The tactic reminds me of Facebook overstating video metrics to trick news publishers into pivoting to video, then leaving them out to dry.

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