Apple News+ was in the headlines last week for all the wrong reasons, despite an impressive showcase that made the platform look fluid, visually stunning and functional, issues have started to surface. Find further details in What’s New in Publishing’s article.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Apple News team, but will those changes be enough to convince people to change their reading habits so fundamentally? Apple is effectively trying to wow users with value by providing access to a huge range of content for only $9.99 a month. We have seen this model work in TV and Film (Netflix/Amazon Prime) and Music (Spotify/Apple Music) — so why wouldn’t it work for publishing?
Content Regularity & Brand Loyalty
Magazines and newspapers are publishing on a frequent timeline. Why is this important? Readers know when to expect the next issue and this will contain all the updates in their chosen field. Once they have read that issue they will likely be relatively satisfied they are up to date.
On the other hand, Music and Film platforms offer content that can be consumed in an hour or so (an album), a couple of hours (a movie), or a few days (a television series). Once that is over, then what? You look for the next thing to watch or listen to, of course.
The difference is that although magazines are part of the Entertainment industry, they are also part of the Information industry. Regular publications are written to communicate with their audience about recent developments in the selected field; great editorial happens to be entertaining, but first and foremost it must be informative. This form of media is not designed to be consumed horizontally in the same way as content on neutral aggregators such as; Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, etc. Magazine content is vertical, each new issue is connected to the last; by history, brand and a constantly developing story.
This leads us to the Brand Loyalty factor — long-time readers of the Washington Post are unlikely to move to a new publication just because it is available. There is a wide gap between availability and desirability (which could, admittedly, be closed with intelligent article recommendations). Apple were banking on people being impressed by the variety of content at their fingertips, when in fact, people have chosen to subscribe to a specific magazine because of the specialised commentary it provides.
Keep Things Simple
There are three factors in the success of a publication: Content, Design, and Voice. A digital platform only really has power in changing one of these factors; Design.
What is the main purpose of a digital platform? — To facilitate reading the publication on multiple devices, anytime, anywhere, with additional functionality such as Search and Archive Access. The focus, then, should be designing a platform that is clean, intuitive and reliable.
Exact Editions have stood by the approach that magazines should be digitally replicated exactly as they appear in print format. As a platform, we make no effort to impose our own brand or to toy with the delivery of the content. This means that readers know what to expect — the exact same content that they have come to know and love. Every magazine is represented on the Exact Editions platform in a standardised format that complements the content.
Apple have perhaps over-tinkered with the way content is displayed, placing more emphasis on flashy exclusive live-covers and customised feature stories, when in reality all readers want is a simple reading experience. Many users, for example, have complained about the varying reading formats within Apple News, indicating that they want consistency.
Leading us to conclude that when it comes to Design in the digital publishing world, it is a matter of Functionality over Novelty.
To close, I must say that Apple News+ has a lot of potential as a combative measure against the fake news, clickbait and unfounded opinions littering social media. They could position themselves as a premium, quality-controlled source of journalism, where users can read intelligent, evidence supported articles from various standpoints. With some ironing of the product and a revised marketing strategy, a comeback would certainly be on the cards.