Turning inner space into outer space

June 13, 2015

Apple throws a lifeline to the news industry with News app

I signed up for Apple’s News Publisher today. Why? Because when iOS9 debuts on millions of iPhones and iPads this fall, newsonaut will instantly be available to a massive new readership.

Of course, signing up was the easy part. Whether I gain anything from it remains to be seen. For a number a reasons, it seems worth a shot for any publisher — from lowly blogs like mine to some of the biggest in the industry.

In fact, Apple already has a bunch of major publishers on board, including The Economist, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and BuzzFeed.

What they gain is an appearance a new app that will be installed on every device that upgrades to iOS9. It will be called, simply, News. Readers are being promised beautifully presented articles about topics of their choice. And publishers will get 100 per cent of the revenue from ads they sell to go along with the articles. That amount is reduced to 70 per cent if Apple sells the ads for them.

Imagine a version of Flipboard, which is one of my favourite sources of news, but with a wider selection of sources and a richer presentation — i.e., more graphics and videos. If the app takes off, it could represent a good source of revenue for publishers and help them pay for better journalism.

It also represents a shift that has become apparent in the past few years toward what is being called distributed content. As explained by Nieman Lab:

Individual news apps and individual news brands aren’t the primary point of contact with news any more. They’re raw material, feeding into broader platforms. The loss of power for publishers in that exchange is obvious; the potential benefits remain mostly undiscovered.

One thing I’m not clear about is whether you will be able to choose individual publications to read, or whether you’ll just choose topics and have articles show up based on what the software thinks you’ll find most interesting. If that’s the case, the chances of newsonaut showing up in someone’s feed may be slim. Still, even a little extra exposure would be nice.

At Macworld, Glenn Fleishman says the app is going to be all about pushing content to readers. You won’t be able to pull in specifically what you want.

Apple is relying on machine learning to sort incoming articles into a million search terms and categories. Machine learning relies on massive datasets that allow neural-network software to be trained in subtleties and pull out patterns it can apply.

I can see where this would be troubling for smaller, struggling publishers. After all, how can they hope to get attention when there is a flood of content from much bigger competitors. I’m hoping Apple can get this sorted out, because in addition to keeping established voices viable, it would be in everyone’s interest to help nurture new ones.