Apple's News Partner Program May Not Fix Apple News

It could all be a PR smokescreen

Key Takeaways

  • The News Partner Program reduces Apple’s cut of news app subscriptions.
  • Apple is desperate to keep lawmakers from messing with its App Store model.
  • The problem with Apple News is not Apple’s 30% cut.
Apple News+ on MacBook Air and iPhone

Apple

Apple’s News Partner Program looks like either a desperate attempt to get more stories into Apple News, a way to deflect the heat from mounting antitrust scrutiny, or both.

The new News Partner Program offers publishers the following deal: If you "maintain a robust Apple News channel," then Apple will halve its cut of your in-app subscription sales. Right now, Apple is under pressure to reduce the rent it seeks for letting publishers and developers sell stuff for its platforms, with various antitrust investigations slowly lumbering into action. At the same time, Apple News is the laggard of Apple services, and could do with a boost.

"When Apple was first rolling out Apple News+ in 2019, they initially wanted a 50% commission but settled with a 30% commission. The new partner program drops that to 15%, which is a desperate attempt to win back publishers who have either refused to join the platform, or abandoned it, like The New York Times," Sam Borcia, CEO and publisher of the Lake & McHenry County Scanner digital newspaper, told Lifewire via email.

News, News+, News Partners?

This announcement is confusing partly because Apple has named many different services almost identically. Let’s take a quick look at its news services to better understand it all. 

First, there’s Apple News, the app that lets you read all kinds of sources. This app is free, and any publisher can publish stories to it, after an approval process. Then, there’s Apple News+, a $9.99 monthly subscription that makes various magazines and other paid publications available inside the Apple News app. Apple pays a cut of that $9.99 to the publishers.

"When Apple was first rolling out Apple News+ in 2019, they initially wanted a 50% commission but settled with a 30% commission."

Then, there are individual apps from news publishers, like the NYT app and so on. Apple currently takes a 30% cut of in-app subscriptions from these apps. This is what the latest announcement is about. The News Partner Program offers to drop Apple’s cut to 15%, if the participating publisher agrees to send more of its news stories to Apple. Specifically, publishers in Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom must publish regularly in the Apple News Format.

What’s In It For Apple?

Apple gets two things out of this offer. One is to encourage more publications to publish their stories to Apple News, and to do it in the native Apple News Format, which makes everything look nice in the app. Apple loses nothing, except perhaps a bit of subscription revenue, and it’s not like Apple does anything for that anyway. 

The other reason may be that Apple is desperate to quench the antitrust flames licking at the sides of the App Store and elsewhere.

"It should be no surprise that Apple is rolling out their new News Partner Program in an attempt to take the heat off themselves in the Epic Games antitrust lawsuit," says Borcia.

The Epic lawsuit is just one of the fires Apple is fighting. Antitrust legislation is heating up in Congress, and the EU is also investigating the activities of various App Stores.

By reducing its cut of the subscriptions for news apps, Apple may be trying to head off legislation that could break its App Store model. Right now, it not only takes a 30% cut of almost anything sold through an app, it also forces apps to use its own payment platform and decides what developers can and can’t do with their own apps. 

"The new partner program drops that to 15%, which is a desperate attempt to win back publishers who have either refused to join the platform, or abandoned it..."

The News Partner Program may or may not help Apple’s antitrust defenses, but it could fail to boost interest in its News service. The problem isn’t just the cut of revenue, it’s the lack of access to subscribers. Some of us may appreciate that publishers can’t get their hands on our private information, but that’s a dealbreaker for many publishers. 

"Apple News is not an ideal product for most publishers due to a lack of control. News publishers prefer to have direct control, and a relationship with their readers—something that Apple News does not give them," says Borcia. "Apple thinks their new low commission structure will entice news organizations to join them, but it likely won't be a success."

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