In a significant move, The New York Times has announced that it will be pulling out of Apple News entirely, citing the fact that the online news aggregation service doesn’t align with its goals of “building direct relationships” with its paying subscribers.
This means that, effective immediately, New York Times articles will no longer appear in the Apple News app alongside those from other publications, and of course it won’t be possible to find, follow, or link to articles from the Times.
To be clear, this has nothing to do directly with Apple News+, Apple’s subscription service, as The New York Times was never on board with that in the first place — in fact, it has been one of the most vocal opponents of Apple’s paid subscription model; what’s actually happening here is simply that the articles that were freely available from the Times anyway will no longer be included or surfaced in Apple News, requiring users to visit the Times website or download its own dedicated iOS app.
Why It’s Leaving
While most of the reports from the news publishing industry lately have talked about how strongly divided they are on Apple’s paid News+ service, in many ways that’s just been the most visible example of the problems that many publishers have long had with Apple as a news aggregator, and for that matter news aggregators in general.
When Apple debuted Apple News+ last year, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson spoke out vociferously against it, actually warning other publishers to steer clear of Apple’s service, and although Apple News+ launched with over 200 magazines, traditional news services that allowed Apple News+ subscribers behind their paywalls were considerably fewer, with only a very small handful of big names at launch, including The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and the Toronto Star.
Most other publishers seemed to feel more or less the way that Thompson did: a fear of subscribers finding their journalism through other sources rather than coming directly to their website and own apps for news. As Thompson put it, they didn’t want their “journalism scrambled in a kind of Magimix (blender) with everyone else’s journalism.”
Although participation in Apple News+ raised more concerns for publishers, who of course would see many of their “subscribers” funneled through Apple anonymously, much of the same could be said for Apple’s free News service.
Long before Apple debuted News+, publishers were already expressing discomfort with the fact that they couldn’t get access to the kind of demographic data that’s available when readers come directly to their website, rather than reading via a third-party news aggregator, and this problem was exacerbated by Apple’s strict privacy policies — quite simply, if you read an article through Apple’s News app, publishers like The New York Times had no idea who you were or where you were coming from. They got aggregate numbers of reads, but that was it.
So in some ways, the writing has been on the wall for a while where The Times is concerned, and this week’s announcement is basically just reiterating the same general problem the publication has always had with Apple News — the lack of direct relationships with readers and the sense of having no control over its own destiny.
Core to a healthy model between The Times and the platform is a direct path for sending those readers back into our environments, where we control the presentation of our report, the relationships with our readers and the nature of our business rules. Our relationship with Apple News does not fit within these parameters.Meredith Kopit Levine, Chief Operating Officer, New York Times
In all fairness, this isn’t just an Apple thing, either. As the Times chief operating officer, Meredith Levien, told NiemanLab, “it’s time to re-examine all of our relationships with the big platforms,” including the other big players like Google and Facebook. According to Levien, it’s ultimately about ensuring that the Times can maintain direct relationships with people to “get them to form a habit and ultimately pay” for a subscription.
Most of the major players simply aren’t contributing to that goal, and Levien believes that companies like Apple are getting far more out of the Times than the Times is getting out of them, and it’s quite likely that it will be taking a similar approach to other news aggregators.
The Times has a goal of reaching 10 million subscribers by 2025, and in this midst of the ongoing global health pandemic, the publication has been seeing unprecedented readership that it believes it can more effectively convert into subscriptions on its own. In essence, the Times wants to be known as a primary source of news by itself, and it wants readers to know that they’re reading The New York Times, not just one of a potpourri of articles that come up in an aggregated feed.
How Much Does This Matter?
Firstly, the Times isn’t ending its relationship with Apple entirely. Naturally, it will still have its own iOS app on the App Store, for example, but it also plans to continue working closely with Apple on podcasts such as The Daily.
More importantly, however, The New York Times hasn’t had a significant presence on Apple News in quite some time, since it actually began pulling back on its participation over a year ago, and over the past year, the Times has only “offered Apple News a few stories per day,” according to a statement from Apple.
In other words, there’s already been so little Times content on Apple News that you might not even notice that it’s gone.
However, the bigger concern isn’t whether you’ll miss The New York Times in Apple News, but whether a decision like this on the part of such a major news publisher is going to simply be the first step in a bigger exodus from Apple’s News service. The Times historically marches to the beat of its own drum within the publishing industry, but this is definitely a decision that other companies are going to sit up and take notice of, and it could inspire those who are on the fence to have the courage to pull out as well.
Meanwhile, however, Apple doesn’t seem too concerned, citing its strong ties with “thousands of publishers” that include its flagship Apple News+ participants like The Wall Street Journal, along with a massive collection of others that still offer their content in the free Apple News app, adding that “We are also committed to supporting quality journalism through the proven business models of advertising, subscriptions, and commerce.”