New York Times CEO Is Warning Publishers Away from Apple’s News Service

Mark Thompson New York Times Credit: Chris Goodney / Bloomberg
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One of the big announcements expected from Apple on Monday is the unveiling of a long-anticipated premium news and magazine service, but while reports have given us a pretty good idea of what the service is going to look like, it seems that Apple will still be launching it without many of the A-list news publications that that the company had hoped to attract.

The service is expected to expand Apple’s News app, which currently provides access to freely-available news content, to add a new premium tier that will include a collection of news publications and magazines for a single monthly fee. While many magazine publishers have already eagerly signed on after coming over as part of Apple’s Texture acquisition, the company has faced a serious uphill battle in getting major news publishers on board.

In fact, among three of the biggest names in U.S. journalism — The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post — Apple has succeeded only in convincing the Journal to participate in its new offering. The others have walked away from the table for various reasons, but now the CEO of The New York Times, the largest U.S. newspaper by subscribers, is going a step further, not only explaining his reasons for keeping his publication out of the Apple deal, but also warning other publishers of the dangers of getting in bed with Apple.

New York Times President and CEO Mark Thompson told Reuters that he sees a serious danger in ceding control of his publication to third-party distributors such as Apple.

We tend to be quite leery about the idea of almost habituating people to find our journalism somewhere else. We’re also generically worried about our journalism being scrambled in a kind of Magimix (blender) with everyone else’s journalism.

Mark Thompson, President and CEO, The New York Times

While many publishers have expressed concern that joining up with Apple will mean losing access to subscriber lists — data that is critical for marketing and demographic purposes — Thompson takes it a step further and suggests that an even greater risk is that publications will lose their identity as readers become accustomed to reading their articles through another service. The fear is that Apple rises to dominance as the “brand” while publications like The New York Times just become a piece of that larger identity.

Thompson points to the demise of Hollywood following the rise of Netflix, and in fact pilloried American broadcast networks for willingly handing their libraries over to Netflix, thereby giving up control over their content and customer relationships. Thompson notes that while Hollywood was eager to take billions of dollars from Netflix back in 2007 in exchange for licensing their libraries, he believes it was a deal with the devil that sowed the seeds of their own demise; by 2016, Time Warner was forced to sell out to HBO owner AT&T, and 21st Century Fox has been gobbled up by Walt Disney, which is on the cusp of launching its own streaming service.

Even if Netflix offered you quite a lot of money. … Does it really make sense to help Netflix build a gigantic base of subscribers to the point where they could actually spend $9 billion a year making their own content and will pay me less and less for my library?

Mark Thompson, President and CEO, The New York Times

Thompson is clear that he intends to avoid the same mistakes that Hollywood made, preferring to maintain control of his newspapers’ own brand identity and steer his own ship. With the Times boasting over $700 million in digital revenue alone, digital ad revenue now surpassing print ad revenue, and a newsroom of 1,550 journalists, it’s easy to understand why the Times believes it doesn’t need a partnership with Apple, but Thompson’s dire warning to other news agencies is at least somewhat self-serving; if Apple can successfully woo other big publications to participate in its news service, the Times may find itself standing alone in pitting its $15 monthly subscription against an Apple all-you-can-read juggernaut.

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