Yesterday, Apple announced that they would be allowing any publisher, versus Apple's partners (the New York Times, for example) to push content to the bundled iOS Apple News app. This is part of the buzzy movement to grab the eyeballs of readers in places they already are, versus newer formats like Snapchat Discover or Flipboard. For publishers, the benefits are obvious; everyone who has an iOS device is forced to have the News App, so anyone could (potentially) see a publisher's content. As exciting as this sounds, there are many questions to ask about whether people actually use the News app, and whether it's a win for publishers and users alike, or simply a way for Apple to offer more (ad-supported) free content on devices.
This is the continuing struggle of publishers to get people to read their content, let alone pay for it. Users have become increasingly more intolerant of ads, moving to ad blocking software on both desktop and iOS devices due to both the increasing amount of ads and the way in which they (unfairly) use up as much as 79% of users' mobile data, as reported by Business Insider. Users have also begun to simply get links and news from their friends on Facebook (which pushes news using an algorithm on their "trending" section) and Twitter, which has led to the growth of the startup Nuzzel. The app connects to the user's Twitter feed and pushes them content on mobile devices and a curated email newsletter, as well as using RSS-feed style "feeds" of popular users such as popular social media marketer Gary Vaynerchuk and Salesforce's CEO, Marc Benioff.
Then there is PressReader, a sleeping giant in the digital media landscape headquartered in Canada. Founded in 1999 and profitable since 2008 (surviving two financial crises), they provide a $29.95 a month subscription service (or users can buy publications separately) that delivers all-you-can-read access to over 5000 titles, including the New York Post, The Washington Post and Vogue. At first, the service provides content based on what's popular based on the user's location, but over time learns to push content based on their own algorithm. PressReader's HTML5 format (that they call SmartFlow) works on almost any device, and publishers are paid any time their content is read, generating eyeballs and dollars from day one.
However, the real success of PressReader is providing access as part of sponsored deals with businesses such as Qantas Airlines, the New York Public Library and AccorHotels. The company is set to announce shortly that the luxury cruise company Uniworld will give access to all of PressReader's publications for passengers, giving a newspaper-like experience and unfettered access to users on their own devices. This is a win-win for the sponsors, giving users a unique and useful way to consume news, the publishers, who still generate revenue without devaluing their premium publications, and the users who can dig into publications from over 100 different countries. The company claims to, through their network of hotspots, locations, and 30 million registered users, connect with over 300 million readers.
New publishers have also begun to change the way that people consume news themselves. Mic News, now a $100 million company, is a youth-focused company that creates video and written content specifically for a 20-something audience. Their blended reporting style involves everything from the latest depressing body-shaming trends on the internet to reporting on Michelle Obama's South By Southwest Keynote, as well as creating series of video content like Elizabeth Plank's Flip The Script. Their success is inherently built upon creating content that appeals to quick-hit stories about what millennials' care about and deeper dives into critical issues, letting people casually check one or two stories or dig far deeper into their content.
The key to the future of publishing isn't simply in re-inventing the wheel, but providing users an experience they want in a way that can sustain the ability for publishers to keep producing quality, revenue-generating content. While the "free content with online advertising" industry once sustained websites (and is part of the Apple News strategy), the industry has begun to move toward finding ways to both get more readers and continue to grow revenues.