Despite the increasing popularity of Apple’s News platform, publishers are struggling to actually make money from publishing their content on it, according to a new report from Slate. While the report acknowledges that traffic numbers on the platform have been steadily increasing, likely in no small part due to the recent scandals that have unseated Facebook as a trustworthy source of news amidst Russian electoral interference and user privacy gaffes. As the traffic from Facebook has plummeted for many publishers, Apple News seems to have taken up the slack, with a recent surge in both popularity and influence. However, as much as publishers are seeing more traffic from Apple News — some have reported it skyrocketing to a place alongside Facebook and Google for their top sources of traffic — one thing that they don’t seem to be seeing is much, if any, actual revenue from the service.
Slate disclosed its own data for its story, where it notes that page views on Apple News tripled since Sept. 2017, and Apple News has now surpassed Facebook as a driver of readership, however the report notes that Slate is not an outlier, with numerous reports from social media consultants and audience development strategists suggesting many news organizations are now making Apple News a key part of their outreach strategy.
However, while services like Facebook and Google simply pushed readers through to publishers’ own websites, allowing them to serve ads to generate revenue as they normally would, Apple News takes the more unique approach of keeping users inside its own Apple News iOS app, which publishers have found considerably less lucrative due to the much more limited advertising options found there. Apple originally partnered with NBC Universal to sell ads inside the app, however two years later, most media outlets have said that they’re seen little to no actual ad revenue coming from Apple News. The problem is partly due to the fact that Apple doesn’t sell many ads within the app as compared to most websites, and doesn’t really encourage publishers to sell their own — although Apple doesn’t in any way prevent publishers from running their own ads, the Apple News app lacks support for many of the common ad formats and systems that are used for ad sales on the web, requiring companies to develop custom ads specifically for Apple News, which many have found isn’t worth the effort.
That said, Apple has been opening up its advertising formats, although this appears to be happening at the company’s typically glacial pace of development. Most recently, Apple has begun allowing publishers to serve ads via Google Ad Manager, which could provide more revenue opportunities, but the revenue potential within Apple News still remains uncertain at this point. Slate’s senior product manager, Chris Schieffer, noted that the publication still “makes virtually no money from Apple News even as its audience there has skyrocketed” and that in fact makes more money from a single article that gets 50,000 page views on its site than it does from the 6 million page views it receives on Apple News in an average month. Other industry professionals agree, noting that Apple News is “hard to monetize in any way,” and the feeling is that Apple is getting news stories for free from publishers and giving them little to no money in return.
Despite this, however, publishers are continuing to go in on the Apple News platform due to Apple’s more “sane” way of providing news discovery in the aftermath of Facebook’s recent track record, as well as considering ways in which the massive audiences they’re gaining through Apple News can still make them money in less direct ways. Plus, the fact that Apple News comes pre-installed prominently on every iOS device, right down to a default News widget on the “Today” screen, provides a vast potential readership base, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that the traffic numbers are skyrocketing for most publishers, with readership via Apple News doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling over the past year. Ultimately, this places Apple News in a key position that’s forcing publishers to pay attention to the service, even in the absence of tangible direct revenue.