In March, I heard that Apple was courting publishers to let them produce spoken word versions of their content. The voiceover talent would include known names, actors and other celebrities. Apple foots the bill for this, so there’s no additional burden on the publications. These talks were part of wider negotiations around contract renewals, as the original News+ deals allowed publishers to drop out after one year if they were unhappy.
I couldn’t get secure confirmation of that tidbit so I never reported it, but Digiday is now reporting the same thing, so it’s clearly happening. Presumably, users would be able to navigate to a story and hear the audio version but you have to expect that Apple would also package this into some sort of feed for people to listen to as part of their commute. Sounds like a podcast, right?
It would be stupid of them not to let users add this into Apple Podcasts. I expect it would be through some proprietary mechanism which of course Apple can do as the owner of both the Podcasts and News app, not backed by a public RSS feed. This would also give them an excuse to feature News+ ads in the Podcasts app, which helps bring more eyeballs to News+ in general.
I’ve also heard that Apple wants to do something similar for video as well, with a half-hour weekly Apple News Spotlight show in the TV app. This project is not as far ahead though; I’d expect to see the audio article stuff in iOS 14.
Later in the Digiday report, it says that publishers have been disappointed with News+’s performance. My understanding is the situation is slightly more nuanced. Whilst most of the magazines have seen almost no growth in readership compared to the status quo before Apple acquired Texture, the newspapers are pretty happy. Not ecstatic or blown away, but generally pleased with the revenue News+ is making for them.
As a reminder, Apple keeps half of the $9.99 per month subscription fee. The remaining $5 is divided up between each News+ publisher based on their relative share of engagement on the platform.
The News app does a good job of promoting stories from the News+ newspapers and therefore these publications are capturing high levels of engagement and the vast majority of the News+ subscription money. I think Apple had expected the newspapers to dominate, but it believed that it would bring enough new subscribers onboard to enable the magazines to see meaningful returns too. That basically hasn’t happened.
One of the fears Digiday raises about the audio push is that this effect will only be increased. The smaller outlets are concerned that Apple will mostly commission audio stories from the ‘big guys’ and their content will be marginalised further.