Announced with much fanfare at the Apple Keynote event in March, Apple News+ marked the most significant update to Apple News since its launch in 2015. Initially available only in the US and Canada, News+ adds a paid tier to the news aggregation platform, allowing readers to access digital magazines including Time, Vogue, People, National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal for a monthly fee.
News+ comes to the UK this year, and in this post we’ll give UK publishers a tour of the US version of the app, look into how US publishers have approached it and offer guidance on how UK publishers can master the platform.
Apple News is a news aggregation application that comes pre-installed on all modern Apple devices. It attracts 90 million monthly active users who notch up some 5 billion article views each month. It’s a free application, monetised by publishers through display and native advertising, with some support for paywalled publications. In the US and Canada the application includes a new section called News+, presenting “Issues” of content with covers, contents pages and stories, mainly from the print version of a publication. A single monthly subscription of $9.99 opens up access to around 300 titles.
Total subscription revenue is split 50/50 between publishers and Apple, and each publisher’s share is assigned according to article dwell time. Subscriber numbers and revenues are not public, but if News+ were to attract 2 million paying subscribers, split between 500 titles, each receiving 1/500 of total dwell time would receive around £19,980.00 per title per month. Assuming the distribution of dwell time were to follow the 80/20 rule, we would expect the top 20% of publications to receive roughly £79,920.00 per month, whilst the other 80% would expect to receive around £4,995.00 per month. Apple Music has 28 million paid subscribers in the US alone, and Apple will be hoping to replicate that success with News+.
Feedback on the launch has been mixed, with some publishers positive and some sceptical, but for many publishers, Apple News+ offers a new revenue stream, from a new format that also counts towards circulation figures for print. Approaching Apple News+ the wrong way could require significant resource for weak return on investment, but approached with a clear strategy and understanding of how best to monetise this audience, News+ could present a valuable opportunity.
So, as publishers are paid revenue based on dwell time, let's first look at how News+ stories are found.
The “homepage” of Apple News is called the Today Feed. This contains a stream of stories from all manner of publications, curated by Apple editors and the Apple News algorithm, which suggests stories based on a user’s unique interests, favoured publications and browsing history. In the US and Canada, this page begins with free Apple News stories, but a short scroll down introduces News+. News+ articles appear alongside free stories in “Topic” feeds and within suggested stories, but most prominently in a “Featured Issue” area. This leads with a magazine cover (which directs to a contents page) and four key features. This kind of placement is about as valuable as it gets for the publisher - a strong cover and selection of features in this area will notch up significant article views for a publication.
The UK version of Apple News contains a prominent tab in navigation named Spotlight; an area curated by Apple News editors each day. In the US and Canada this tab is replaced with a News+ tab, which allows readers to jump straight into the paid section. This News+ area displays the full catalogue of magazines hidden behind sub-navigation grouped in alphabetical order, by interest or by “featured” status, followed by a curated page of stories split into topic or publication.
Finding a title with sub-navigation tools can be a little fiddly. With no search function at present, a user wishing to find a title beginning with the letter G has to scroll through screen after screen of covers, with each title competing for their attention. They’ll find magazines by interest, too, but all-in-all, finding publications using sub-navigation requires plenty of intent on the user’s part, so readers are much more likely to find content through single stories within curated areas of the app. We’ll talk a little about how to use this to your advantage later in this article.
Outside the app, the Apple News editorial team collaborates to assemble email newsletters that are circulated every week. They consist of five of the week’s top stories and aren’t limited to a single set of sources or topics. Users can share stories with friends through socials and messaging apps, and email links to publications to friends.
The user who navigates to an issue or article is able to follow that title, but only by navigating to the main channel of the publication - this isn’t possible on article pages or even issue contents pages. Following a publication does a few things - it positions the latest issue in a prominent area of the News+ section, it automatically downloads issues when they come out, and it sends a signal to the Apple News algorithm that a user is interested in that publication. This increases the number of stories surfaced to the user as they make their way around the app. It goes without saying that this is a vital action, so we'll look at methods for driving that particular behaviour later in this article.
It’s worth noting that a user who hasn’t subscribed to News+ will meet a paywall prompt whenever they attempt to view a News+ article. Articles are also flagged as paid to free users, but Apple has to be careful about users hitting a paywall too often as it risks affecting Apple News UX, reducing usage. Those who haven’t yet tried News+ will be met with an offer of a free trial, however, so as a publisher, directing followers to your publication in-app could lead to conversion, particularly at launch. Apple hasn't released figures on the number of readers who have continued with News+ following trials, but have stated that "the road to monetization takes some time" and suggested "different trial periods" will be offered.
Publications on News+ are split into two camps - PDF publications that present issues as flat replica versions of their print titles and Apple News Format publications which allow the creation of print-meets-digital layouts optimised for screen, as well as features like animated covers and advertisements that click through.
At launch, around 50% of publications on Apple News were PDFs. Five months in, the majority of titles now appear in Apple News Format. This isn’t a surprise, as PDF publications aren’t indexable within the system, are unlikely to be featured, and offer a weak user experience compared to Apple News Format.
Apple News Format publications generally present articles in two ways: non-features and features. “Non-features” tend to be presented in basic, repeated templates, whereas “features” tend to live on bespoke designs, which maximise the capabilities of ANF in layout, behaviour and media formats, often designed around the specific material of the article. Some of the best examples of this come from high-circulation titles like National Geographic, GQ, WIRED and Time. Articles such as these are prime candidates to be featured within the app - partly as they offer a wide appeal to readers, but the strength of design plays a big role here. Bespoke features offer the most compelling experience for audiences, which Apple takes very seriously.
Apple made quite a fuss about animated covers, presenting a beautiful selection at the News+ launch, but at present magazines don’t appear to have continued producing these. The use of covers on the Today Feed and within prominent areas of the app means animated covers merit experimentation, but creation can be time-consuming. At FlatPlan we can help realise this with minimal impact to the art team.
Advertising from the print product can be included in Apple News Format. The majority of publishers that have included print ads have simply reproduced a full page ad, occasionally adding a link to the image. The right type of publication - and the right type of advertiser - could take this much further, using animation, video or unique typography, but advertisers may prefer to book digital-style formats to run across both Apple News and News+ channels.
The News+ user interface has been criticised, as some users have reportedly found it confusing. It’s often difficult for the user to understand whether they are viewing a story in News or News+ - a cover, momentarily floating at the bottom of the article, is often the only difference. If a reader has clicked a story in their article feed, the only way to navigate to the full issue is to click this cover, and if they were to swipe right they would be taken to a story from a completely different publication. This presents an issue for publications, as a heavily-trafficked article doesn’t necessarily lead to time spent with the publication as a whole - we have solutions for this, which we’ll outline later in this post. Apple News uses “Recirculation” areas to drive traffic from page to page and publication to publication. News+ doesn’t include this functionality, so most current articles in News+ create a "dead-end" for users at the end of each article. We have solutions for this, too, also outlined below.
Apple News stories tend to arrive to the application through a CMS (at FlatPlan we use an RSS feed, after which we handle conversion and delivery), but the majority of News+ content stems from print publications, which are often not part of a digital workflow. Thankfully, workarounds have been devised for print-only publishers. Some magazines in the US and Canada export from InDesign, manually copy and paste their articles into a placeholder CMS, or use PDF extraction.
Extraction can be complicated in itself, but the interpretation of print elements into Apple News Format is where many conversions fall down. At FlatPlan, we can take care of integrations that deliver content from a CMS or PDF extraction that uses our unique machine learning system to ensure quick and precise conversion. Along with this we have a focus on ensuring that context within the articles to maintain the flow of the given narrative. Creating a News+ publication that retains editorial integrity and clear storytelling creates the best user experience, leading to increased dwell time, so context is key.
Mastering the presentation of your print content for Apple News+ is vital. It’s how you build brand recognition and loyalty. Where possible, this should mean more than adding the correct typefaces and colours to a basic template. Bespoke features will make much more visual impact, but a bespoke feel can be created from templates if flexible, well-designed templating is developed.
Columns or smaller features have to be tackled carefully. The majority of publications on Apple News present these in very basic layouts on pages of their own, often lined up side-by-side towards the end of an issue. This can create a frustrating experience for readers, which can lead to them bouncing to another publication, reducing dwell times across further pages in the publication. In many instances we recommend combining shorter pieces, using on-page navigation and strong signposting to lead readers and create a longer, better experience with that type of story.
While stories in News+ are organised into “issues” there is plenty of opportunity to be creative with current content and evergreen content from past issues. Each article in News+ gets its own unique identifier, making it possible to link to past stories or series’ - or even create buckets of content based on theme. Apple News directs readers using a "Recirculation" area but News+ doesn’t offer this functionality, so we recommend creating it as part of your channel build, signposting further reads at the end of features.
FlatPlan includes “footer” functionality that can display branded messages directly below content. We use footers to aid the user’s journey, and as an example, in News+ we’re able to display one type of footer to people arriving to an article within an issue and one type of footer for those arriving to a single article. Those arriving to a single article this way are lost to another publication when swiping right, so we can instead aim to change that behaviour to viewing more from the publication. We'll be using areas like footers to help drive that ever-important action of hitting Follow on a publication too.
For many publications we’ll be using footers in the free version of Apple News to help drive traffic into News+. We’ll do this using contextual messaging directed at readers already engaging with content, offering a strong potential for conversion. In FlatPlan these footers can be updated as often as required, so each new issue can potentially be promoted using covers and information on features. Data from existing channels can be used to help guide editorial decisions on the stories a publication decides to publish in News+, with our team recommending types of story based on metrics like dwell time, article views, shares and reach. Combining this with data from News+ content to inform adjustments can lead to strong performances with News+ audiences.
Carefully monitoring article data and user behaviour in News+ can help drive other decisions around content. If certain types of story show traction with Apple News audiences, they can be amended after going live to include further content that will increase dwell time. Are additional images available from the shoot? Is there a video to be used? Could extra context be added? These additions can be added as part of your Apple News content plan ahead of publishing, but Apple News also allows them to be added after going live. This is particularly useful if you find specific stories are performing well.
By carefully considering content conversion, having a focus on the importance of design, using elements like footers, monitoring data and thinking strategically about how to drive audiences around your own publication it’s possible to build an environment that takes your publication further than others on News+. Where other titles may concentrate on just delivering stories into the app, there are opportunities to create a unique environment in News+ - one that offers a good return on investment.
Pre-installed on some 1.4 billion Apple devices internationally, Apple News opens up a huge and potentially lucrative audience to media businesses. At FlatPlan, we help publishers drive growth across Apple News and as such we have created the Apple News Knowledge Base. It introduces Apple News to those yet to integrate with the platform, but more importantly it's designed to assist publishers to increase audience growth and maximise the potential of Apple News. Within, we take a look at everything from how Apple News' editors work in tandem with the platform's algorithms, to how analytics work to guides on running ads within the platform.
Here's what the Apple News Knowledge Base covers:
If you’re still not 100%, why not discover five reasons to get your publication on Apple News? If you’d like to integrate your publication with Apple News with the help of FlatPlan, click here to access the Apple News Knowledge Base and begin your Apple News integration.
Kerrang! is one of the most widely-read rock music publications in the world. First published in June 1981, it’s carved out a niche at the heavier end of the spectrum, specialising in hard rock, punk and metal styles. As the biggest selling music weekly in the UK, Kerrang! has welcomed some of the world’s most successful musicians to its pages, from Kurt Cobain to Iron Maiden to Bring Me The Horizon. The print edition exists alongside their hugely popular website, which hosts a great deal of online-only content, like videos from Kerrang!’s event series, The K! Pit.
Kerrang!’s loud, bold branding reflects its niche. Its digital and print editions contrast bold colours with bold personas, and its trademark ‘!’ punctuates not just the logo, but everything the publication covers and stands for. Here’s a title that strives to stay ahead of the curve in a fast-moving young music scene.
Apple lets any publication integrate with Apple News by providing an RSS or Atom feed, as Kerrang! had already done. But this form of integration offers very little presence on the platform - to illustrate, here’s the warning Apple offers when publishers try to do so:
A full integration by FlatPlan means all stories are created in Apple News Format - which is what we did for Kerrang! This opens them up to Apple News’ analytics platform, allows them to run ads and build an audience, and most importantly allows their stories to be surfaced in the app through Apple News’ algorithm.
Despite the loudness of its branding, it’d be a mistake to assume that Kerrang!’s voice is aggressive, or musically purist. The team cover stories from all points on the rock spectrum, never shying away from the inherent playfulness that comes with rock’s theatricality. A perfect example of what I mean is Kerrang!’s Apple News channel at the time of writing:
‘Motörhead’s Mikkey Dee Has The Coolest Lawn Mower Of All Time’ alongside ‘Exclusive Stream: Season For Change Are Championing Hong Kong’s Hard Rock Scene’ and ‘Dark Funeral’s Stage Outfits Have Been Stolen’. A funny news story, a rather more serious news story and a feature proudly displaying the brand’s passion for their niche. That’s Kerrang!.
Focusing on one specific niche plays to Kerrang!’s advantage in Apple News. It allows Kerrang! to be a leading Apple News publisher in the world of music, and this authority dictates that its content be suggested alongside other leading music and entertainment publications. See this example, where a Kerrang! article was recommended beneath a Billboard story:
Considering Kerrang! is a niche publication, the team’s goals were clear: to depict and maintain the integrity of their inimitable brand as strongly as possible. Kerrang! wanted us to help them carve out their own niche within Apple News; an extension of that which the publication has spent decades calling home.
The focus of Kerrang! makes for a loyal and devoted audience that dwarfs those of competitors. Kerrang! has been featured by Apple News’ editors since its FlatPlan integration on May 9th, and has sustained high numbers of unique users per month since integration. This illustrates the brand dedication of Kerrang!’s readers; itself the reason we ensured that the Apple News channel remained totally faithful to the brand. Here’s a desktop/iPad story:
Here’s that same story on iPhone:
Kerrang! is well on their way to creating a strong, valuable audience on Apple News. The team continues to reach new audiences, who are exposed both to the brand and to the ads they traffic on the platform. What’s more, the users who followed Kerrang!’s initial RSS feed were carried over into their FlatPlan channel, giving the publication a neat head start on Apple News. Our knowledge of Apple News allowed Kerrang! to turn a default integration into a full Apple News Format integration that fires on all cylinders, meeting a new audience of music lovers on Apple devices with a beautifully branded channel that showcases their great content.
But don't just take our word for it. Here's a quote from Luke Morton, Kerrang!'s Digital Editor:
At Kerrang! we’re always looking for new and exciting ways to deliver our content to a wider audience, and within a short space of time we’ve seen a huge uptake on Apple News. Mathematics understand our audience and how to make Kerrang! work on different platforms. The team made our move onto Apple News really easy, handling all the tech development work, while we focused on providing the best stories for our audience. Working together, our Apple News audience has rocketed in the first two months and it’s still continuing to grow.
Welcome to Apple News, Kerrang!
If you'd like us to help integrate your publication with Apple News, click here.
After months of hard work by a world-class editorial team, iconic British title The Face recently relaunched with the help of Mathematics. As the project progressed we discussed integration with Apple News and the team’s desired outcomes from their Apple News channel. We were acutely aware that here was a publication described by The New York Times as ‘a magazine that changed culture’, so with the weight of a great reputation bearing down, we were careful not to compromise The Face’s iconic brand. So, we designed an Apple News channel to communicate The Face’s position at the vanguard of British youth culture, harnessing the exposure Apple News offers by surfacing stories to users based around interests and browsing behaviours.
The Face aims to circumvent “feed culture” - they don't have a Facebook page and instead of posting quickfire articles regularly they deliver a small amount of content to a consistently high standard. This bold approach requires building loyal audiences that come to The Face through quality platforms like Apple News.
The Face’s focus is on youth culture, but one needn’t be a young person to enjoy its content. The team covers such a breadth of culture that any reader is able to quickly find an article pertaining to their interests. Unlike other publications of the same genre, The Face was relaunched as an already-influential brand. As such, its deeply-ingrained principles were well known, and the first task for us at Mathematics was assuring that they were never compromised.
Music, fashion, film and art are the areas most widely reported on by The Face, though the publication’s remit extends beyond the creative industries. For instance, here’s the piece leading their Apple News channel at the time of writing:
This plays to The Face’s advantage in Apple News. The platform’s algorithm works to learn a person's interests, and its UI surfaces stories of interest to that person. This, coupled with the variety of its content, broadens The Face’s opportunities to appear as a ‘Related Story’ suggestion below content from huge publishers of all types. Content will also appear in a person's personalised news feed, based either on context or personal taste.
The editorial team had to work doubly hard to launch with heaps of content worthy of The Face’s reputation; the last thing they needed in the planning and development stages was more work. Therefore, it was essential that Apple News integration was as simple and as smooth as possible without interfering with the team’s hectic schedules:
"We worked on setting up The Face on Apple News at the same time we were launching the website, so we needed experts to handle the integration without draining our resource at such a critical time. Because the Mathematics team have so much experience and insight with Apple News, we completely trusted them to lead the project, which they did brilliantly. They were able to handle all the tech work, while also translating our overall design identity to work on the platform." - Bridget Mills-Powell, Digital Director
Naturally, a publication so devoted to style has to appear elegant in all channels. Our FlatPlan integration system offers The Face the total control over the look and feel they require, in turn allowing them to maintain the integrity of their brand however they see fit.
We began by considering how Apple News can help meet The Face’s overall goals. Then, we offered their team our hard-earned insights into how best to approach growth with the platform. These conversations revolved around the various types of content The Face publishes. On its site, The Face hosts audio and video content, and it was paramount that these formats be seamlessly incorporated into the publication’s Apple News channel. As such, The Face channel on Apple News contains more audio than any other channel we've seen - an exciting new addition to the platform.
Unique to FlatPlan is the ability to add custom footers below each article so we added a footer to direct their audience to The Face newsletter. This helps them own their audience, and direct them to wherever The Face’s goals must be met:
All the editorial team need to do to surface stories on Apple News is publish a story to their site, and FlatPlan automatically maps content according to category, so stories are automatically grouped into the relevant section with The Face’s Apple News channel. We designed page templates to perfectly replicate The Face’s look and feel, and built them to be effective across mobile, tablet and desktop. This assures that The Face’s content portrays their iconic branding, irrespective of platform. Here’s a desktop Apple News story:
Here’s the same story on Apple News for mobile:
And here it is for tablet:
From a technical perspective Apple News integration usually requires CMS-level development and heaps of QA testing but FlatPlan’s simplicity meant that Mills-Powell was able to say: “To be honest, the integration was so easy on our resource I barely knew it was going on”.
Ideal! Our knowledge of Apple News allowed The Face to make their start with a focus on building a loyal audience. It’s early days, but the team have already earned some great results.
Welcome to Apple News, The Face!
It’s fair to say there’s quite a lot of buzz around Apple News. Preloaded onto all modern Apple devices, Apple News is becoming a vital platform for many publishers, but as integration hasn’t been easy to achieve in the past, some publishers have held back from capitalising on this huge new audience.
As the developers behind FlatPlan we've made integration onto the platform as easy as supplying a link to your website, and as we spend every waking moment working with Apple News we thought we'd round up a number of the key reasons you should embrace the platform...
Open an iPhone, iPad or modern Apple computer and you’re likely to find Apple News preloaded onto the home screen. Some 90 million people are active on the platform each month and its prominence, user experience and clever use of notifications make it the primary news and content source for many.
A couple of key things differentiate Apple News audiences from those of, say, Facebook, Google or Instagram: the intent of the audience, and the way content is surfaced to that audience.
What’s great about this audience is their intent. Where your stories compete against a myriad of images and posts from friends on Facebook or Instagram, users in Apple News are there to read news, or medium to long-form content. This leads to strong average active reading times and makes it a great platform for building loyalty from readers. But it’s how Apple News gets you in front of these audiences that really differentiates it from search or social...
Apple News suggests content by combining human curation with an algorithm. Users can follow publications or interests but where Apple News stands out is how it follows user interests and suggests content from all manner of publications on both the main category pages and articles pages, too.
Let’s say you run a digital publication that covers movies. There’s every chance an article you write about James McAvoy could be featured using Apple’s human curation, or shown to people with an interest in movies, an interest in films that James McAvoy starred in, an interest in similar actors or any number of similar tastes built up in Apple’s algorithm. Apple uses anonymised data through search and internet browsing too, so after a short time the app suggests a very good quality of content to users.
Another key traffic driver is Apple’s algorithm-controlled "recirculation area" below articles. Thanks to this algorithm there’s every possibility that your content could sit directly below a story from an internationally-renowned publisher with a serious readership. For example, here’s a story from the small online football publication Club Call under a BBC piece selected by Apple’s editors as a Top Story:
Want to read more about how Apple News surfaces content? Here’s a deep dive into the app from the New York Times.
It’s a common misconception that publishers aren’t able to run advertising on Apple News. In fact, the platform allows advertising across the homepage, category pages and all article pages.
Ads can be trafficked through Apple’s Workbench system, but it’s likely you use Google Ad Manager (formerly Doubleclick for Publishers) - Apple now allow you to traffic ads through your existing system if that’s what you use. 100% of revenue from your direct campaigns go straight to the publisher (Apple has no involvement in these deals), but Apple offer two additional revenue opportunities from inventory they sell:
Backfill: Apple sell campaigns for backfill, with publishers receiving 70% of the revenue
Pooled: Publishers earn revenue from ads that appear in between their stories in areas of the app they don’t control, such as the Today feed or in topic areas such as Fashion or Technology. Publishers share 50% of this revenue, allocated based on time spent with each channel’s articles.
Native campaigns can be served into Apple News as well. These can be delivered as part of your standard publishing workflow - your team just need to tick a button to send them to Apple News when they hit publish in their CMS. Here’s an example from the Telegraph - this story appears in the app the same way as a standard story, but with a native flag shown in listings and on the article.
You can direct further traffic to native campaigns with Apple’s Native units. By putting some of your client’s spend into Apple News you can direct Apple’s audience to their stories, tapping into a largely affluent audience with strong intent, in a brand-safe space. Here’s an example of native ads hosted within the app:
Apple News is now available on around 1.4 billion devices around the world, and according to Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, some 5 billion articles are read on the app each month. As traffic continues to grow it’s clear that a solid audience is available in the platform.
Apple News data is not available within Google Analytics, but within a dashboard of its own, with stats sent optionally by email to team members daily, weekly or monthly.
New streams of traffic are, of course, always welcome, but how you dig into this data can offer valuable insight into your content on other channels.
Apple’s algorithms can expose stories to readers that haven’t performed well on a publisher website or on socials. By monitoring user behaviour when users visit an article Apple can give more reach to the most compelling content, driving spikes of traffic to stories that might have gone unnoticed elsewhere.
Keeping an eye on these stories open up opportunity to re-try seeding them on-site and on socials - tweaking headlines, images or placements to drive traffic to articles, mirroring the effect from Apple News.
Most publishers rely on multiple revenue streams to drive the business with each individual channel working to aid others as much as possible. If approached correctly, Apple News can work to drive value outside of the app, aiding everything from data capture to events to paywall subscriptions.
Here at FlatPlan we bring all manner of publications to Apple News - from fast-moving consumer news publications to titles that operate on freemium models, to B2B industry magazines. Each publication has a set of goals we work to - many of which revolve around building loyal audiences and monetising those audiences.
We offer guidance on how to use Apple News to achieve those goals and tools to help you get there. Here are a couple of examples. Dazed, a consumer style publication wanted to drive Apple News readers to their mailing list. FlatPlan allows them to promote this under every article.
Alternatively, 90Min direct traffic to their main site:
Publishers can of course link within Apple News articles to external pages they want their audience to see. For instance, Creative Review often link out to RSVP links for the regular events they host.
By creating great content and following our guidance, publishers are able to develop an audience in Apple News and then use tools like FlatPlan’s custom footers to derive value from that audience.
Integrating with Apple News used to be a complicated process. Publishers would need to build a bespoke system of their own to handle the induction, and they’d need to take care of their own error reporting. FlatPlan takes care of all this heavy-lifting, handling collection, conversion and delivery.
With FlatPlan, feeding content to Apple News is as simple as clicking publish within a CMS. All we require is an RSS feed; a simple output that most CMSs contain by default. We even take care of categorising content and delivering stories to Apple News with an elegant flourish that matches brand designs to a tee. All publishers need to do is what they do best: write and design clear, beautiful digital stories.
FlatPlan helps media businesses get onto Apple News quickly, easily and at the highest quality. To find out how we can help you, click here.
Recently, we've enjoyed the unique pleasure of onboarding Creative Review onto Apple News. Working closely with the team we strived to create an Apple News channel that communicates as well as its website and print publication, presenting journalism as graceful as the work it covers, presented in an equally tasteful fashion.
Creative Review occupies an unrivalled position within the creative industries. Alongside the print edition, which you'll find on many a creatives' desk, the digital publication operates inside a 'freemium' framework, where 50% of its content is behind a paywall, and the other 50% is available to anybody. This model launched last year with much success.
Creative Review doesn’t provide dry, industry-only reportage. The team cover everything from art, film and television advertising, publishing to illustration, with unparalleled levels of coverage. Being part of the creative industries isn't a prerequisite to falling in love with its content. And, as their freemium model has proven, new readers who discover the publication will often convert into paying subscribers.
Apple News offers a number of opportunities for a title like Creative Review. Apple's algorithm works to learn a user’s interests and their UI surfaces stories of interest to that user. This allows a story from Creative Review to appear under a story from, say, The Independent, or within a user's personalised news feed, based either on context or personal taste. International users who may never have heard of Creative Review could end up spending plenty of time with their content, which made Apple News an enticing prospect for the team.
Creative Review is published by Centaur Media, and houses a lively, engaged editorial team and a busy development department who work across multiple publications. With that in mind, we had to make their induction into Apple News as smooth as possible and make day-to-day delivery just as straightforward, to avoid obstructing hectic schedules.
“As a magazine which writes about the creative industry, we have to be a bit finickity about things like the leading of type and how images sit on a page. I think all of us breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the draft templates designed by Mathematics…they got CR straight away. We think the final templates do full justice to the brilliant photography, film and design work we write about. What’s even better, is that publishing to Apple News on a daily basis hasn’t added to our work load!” - Salonee Gadgil, Digital Content Producer, Creative Review.
It goes without saying that a publication that appeals to creatives had to be designed well. This is a team that notice and care about the exact spacing between an image and a caption, or the perfect line height on mobile, tablet and desktop. Total control over look and feel was core to the brief, as was paying attention to the finest details, to ensure brand integrity.
We started out by listening to Creative Review's overall goals and how Apple News could help meet them. From here we offered insights into how Apple News performs and how best to approach growth on the platform. Considering the publication’s freemium paywall model many of these conversations focused around strategies to connect with readers that are most likely to be interested in Creative Review, helping the team to seed specific pieces of content to build loyalty.
Unique to FlatPlan is the ability for us to deliver beautiful "Apple News Format" pages through nothing more than an RSS feed. This meant the resource required from Centaur's tech team was minimal, with the system now running without any need for their developers to maintain. All the editorial team have to do to introduce stories to Apple News is tick a box when publishing a story to their site. FlatPlan automatically maps content by category, so stories are automatically grouped into the relevant section within the Creative Review Apple News channel.
Working to Creative Review’s brand guidelines we designed pages to perfectly replicate the desired look and feel. We then built out pages to be effective across mobile, tablet and desktop. This guarantees that the work Creative Review covers lives up to its full potential, no matter the device. Here’s a desktop story:
And here’s a mobile story:
A significant part of allowing the publication’s work to proliferate further was the custom footer we built. It appears at the bottom of every article, and working to the publisher’s goals it drives newsletter signups and key socials. Its sleek yet bold call to actions are tailor-made to invite conversions.
FlatPlan’s simplicity offered Creative Review a quick and easy turnaround on Apple News. Our knowledge of the platform helped Creative Review to launch onto Apple News with a strategy driven by insights and guidance on growth. It's early days, but Creative Review has already seen huge success since launch, with articles featured in the Spotlight and chosen by Apple News editors within editorial groups.
Welcome to Apple News, Creative Review!
On Monday, 25th of March, 2019, Apple gathered the press and figures of highest influence in tech to its California headquarters for some significant announcements. The headline acts of the evening for publishers? A new territory for News - Canada - and the introduction of magazines to Apple News. Say hello to Apple News+.
Now live in the US and Canada, Apple has launched with 320 magazines and newspapers including Time, Vogue, People, National Geographic, Billboard, The LA Times and Wall Street Journal. Following a one month trial, access to all titles will cost $9.99 US and $12.99 in Canada.
First of all, full disclosure. We’re the team behind FlatPlan - the system that allows publishers to get onto Apple News with any CMS - and we were delivering content to Apple News+ Canada from launch - so you could certainly say we’re fans of Apple News. But we’re a business that’s powered by publishers, so we have a good understanding of both the platform and the implications for the industry. Here’s all the information you need from the announcement.
Open the new app and you won’t immediately notice a difference to the UI. The free tier in Apple News still takes centre stage, offering curated and algorithm driven news and content recommendations. Magazines appear within the app, neatly flowing into the Today feed. Publishers are given “New issue” and “Featured issue” screen estate to showcase covers, chosen for readers based on their interests and from Apple News editors’ curation.
"Live covers” allow publications to create moving versions of their covers, using motion to leverage their storytelling capabilities and entice readers to click through. The reader that wishes to dive into the magazine is led into a contents page and can view articles in Apple News Format - Apple’s own format that that allows pages to be presented in beautiful, screen-optimised pages with animations, behaviours and custom styles to bring an immersive experience.
It’s Apple News Format that sets Apple News+ apart from competitors that offer PDFs which require users to zoom in and out of pages that were destined for the printed page – not designed to be legible in screen. Publishers that make the most of this format will benefit most from Apple’s revenue model, as they’ll offer an experience that builds loyalty and increases dwell time.
Apple takes 50% of all revenue from Apple News+ subscriptions, with the rest of the revenue going into a pool to be divided between publishers. Revenues are dished out to publications based on the amount of time users spend engaged with articles - dwell time, basically. This gauge for payment isn’t perfect - visually-led articles will rarely attract the same dwell time as long-reads, and weekly publications will arguably have more opportunity to rack up views, but the simple fact is that the more compelling the publication the more revenue the publisher will receive.
It will be interesting to see how publishers react to this new model. We could see a shift to longer versions of articles delivered into Apple News+, or specially produced Apple News+ articles with behind the scenes video and extra photography. The smart publishers will use Apple News Format to go much further than just presenting stories, working with Apple News editors to showcase stories that make full use of the system. We find our FlatPlan ‘Feature’ stories that make full use of Apple News Format offer very high dwell times on Apple News at present - using the format to compel readers and increase revenues is key to success in Apple News+. One thing's for sure - by focusing on dwell time over pageviews Apple will counteract clickbait - the aim of the game is to keep readers engaged.
Different publishers have different takes on this. Condé Nast, Hearst and Meredith have jumped feet-first into the new offering. Wall Street Journal's approach has been to use Apple News to build new subscriber bases. New York Times aren't posting to the paid tier at present, but still seeding content on Apple News+ free tier.
What's clear is that consumer behavior is changing. Netflix has changed how people watch television. Gone are the days of following a schedule - people are now getting used to a world where they control what they consume and when they consume it. Apple News+ is at attractive proposition to the consumer, so while it won't be right for every publication it's going to be hard to ignore its impact.
You don’t. Wall Street Journal is delivering a ‘curated’ selection of stories to the platform. WSJ editor Matt Murray will dictate the stories that make it into the app but William Lewis, publisher of The Journal suggesting that the selection will be a mix of general, political and sports stories, based on stories that do well on the free tier of the platform at present.
This is hard to predict so early on, but assuming that 2% of the 90 million monthly users of Apple News will subscribe (1.8 million), with 320 titles currently available. If a title was to receive a 1/320 of total dwell time, they could each expect to receive around $28,097 per month.
Assuming the distribution of dwell time were to follow the 80/20 rule, we would expect the top publications to receive roughly $112,387 per month, whilst the majority (80%) might expect to receive around $7,024 per month.
Apple has a huge user base - 1.4 billion active devices as of January this year. Apple Music has over 50 million paid subscribers, thanks to Apple’s promotional clout. The app will come preloaded with a free trial on all iPhones, iPads and computers, and features push notifications to drive users into the platform. 90 million people use the free tier of Apple News+, racking up 5 billion pageviews every month, so expect this launch to make an impact.
Canada is Apple's fourth territory (after the US, UK and Australia). What's unique about this territory is the addition of a new language - French Canadian. We're now delivering content for 90Min into both English speaking and French speaking channels. Apple plans to roll the app out into Europe soon, so we'll see more language support soon.
Apple News+ magazines is available to publications by invitation at present. Drop us a message if you'd like to talk about how FlatPlan can help your bring your publication into the system.
Winning out in distributed publishing requires solid evaluation of how each platform contributes to your goals as a publisher. Naturally, digging into data is key to understanding if your approach is working and how to build further growth. With this in mind we asked Barney Perkins, our Data Analyst, to guide us through an in-depth look at Apple News analytics.
Apple’s commitment to preserving user privacy means integration with Google Analytics isn’t possible. Analysis takes place within Apple’s own analytics dashboard or by manually downloading data for use in systems like Data Studio.
Let’s look at some of the key metrics we monitor within Apple News.
Apple News measures both the unique and total views an article receives. We have observed significant differences between unique views on Apple News and how the same content performs on its publisher’s website. These figures often correlate negatively, perhaps indicating differences in audience interest and the way that Apple News promotes content.
The former is difficult to establish given the limited ways Apple allows us to segment audience data. To drill this down you’ll need to manually track content and performance, which will allow you to better understand the Apple News audience and identify untapped potential for content on other platforms.
Apple News defines reach as headline views plus article views. Reach closely matches unique views and both are inversely correlated with the proportion of traffic that comes from recirculation. The articles that do a higher proportion of traffic through recirculation don’t seem to get as much reach as those that get the majority of their traffic from the Today Feed, as more users tend to discover content from their personalised topic feeds than the ‘Related’ section at the bottom of an article.
A user that taps to Follow a publication will be shown more content from that title across the Today Feed — the homepage of the app. A direct link to the publication’s channel in News will also appear in navigation. Naturally, then, building followers is key to driving growth.
The accumulated Follows a publication receives prior to the date an article went live exhibits a positive correlation with unique views. By monitoring data across the publications we handle, we believe Follows don’t just affect reach for those that follow, they send a signal to Apple’s algorithm to expose more stories to other users, too. As your number of followers increases, you can expect to see the size of spikes in traffic increase significantly.
Upon opening your publications’ Follows page, you’ll be presented with a simple chart displaying net follows per day in a given time period, and net follows across the whole of that period. Audience segmentation is available by territory. At the moment this comprises the US, UK, Australian and Canadian audiences, where Apple News is currently available.
The grey dots along the x-axis (above) mark significant events for your articles — being featured in Spotlight, being featured in an Editorial Group (eg. News Editor’s Picks or Top Videos), appearing in an Apple email, sending out a push notification or being ‘boosted’ by Apple Editors.
Notifications can be sent to followers by publishers who have been invited by Apple to deliver them. Click-through rate tends to be consistent across publications, but frequency of these notifications needs to be considered; ‘over-notifying’ will lead users to remove notifications for your publication. Notification click-through rate appears to be weighted significantly in favour of iPhone users and in particular males aged 25–34.
Notifications can be used to increase the lifespan of articles that aren’t time sensitive. We believe an effective strategy is to monitor the performance of a piece within its first 24 hours in Apple News, then send a notification. This will give you much more of an indication around interest in the story than sending immediately or following website analytics, as popular stories on Apple News can vary significantly.
Shares relate to users clicking the Share button within the app, with analytics grouped according to the platform they were shared through: Mail, Messages, Twitter, Facebook and Other. For most of the publishers we work with, the vast majority of these shares are categorised as ‘Other’. Often as high as 98%, this inhibits comprehensive analysis of shares. Given that the majority of Apple News users are on iPhone, we suspect that ‘Other’ shares come from WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or other dark social.
Shares outside of Apple News aren’t trackable in Google Analytics, but at FlatPlan we include trackable links in template footers, allowing publishers to track user behaviour if they leave the platform to visit the publisher website.
Discovery Source breaks down how users land on your content. Traffic is broken down according to multiple measures: the Today feed (the homepage and default view on Apple News), your channel page, topic feeds (the Entertainment topic page, for instance), recirculation (the area below articles), push notifications, Spotlight, the Today View (the most prominent area of the main page controlled by Apple News editors) and “Other” (which could include external shares to the app article).
Being featured in Spotlight means Apple News editors’ have chosen your story to sit alongside 4–5 others, sitting within a very prominent tab in the app. While being featured here can be a significant traffic driver — particularly if a story is featured on the weekend — don’t regard Spotlight as the holy grail. We often see much higher spikes of traffic to stories surfaced through recirculation, the Today Feed or Topic Feeds — in essence the whole ecosystem works well to help expose certain stories.
On the whole, there is limited demographic data available in Discovery Source to advise on how a channel retains readers, or — in conjunction with other metrics — identify how popular articles can drive traffic to the rest of one’s content. But, with significant deviations from the norm regarding gender or age, for example, an estimate of how traffic flows through the channel can be established.
Apple News calculates loyalty by dividing users by the number of articles they’ve read in the past 28 days, or by the number of days they’ve visited out of the past 28. These numbers will match up almost exactly, and you can use either approach to gauge the loyalty of your users.
At Mathematics we group users by Casual, Loyal, Brand Lover and Subscriber, and using similar measures in Apple News we find Brand Lovers are generally more stable, although this varies a surprising amount across publications. Whilst there is a strong correlation between the behaviours of Casual, Loyal and Brand Lover users, the correlation relaxes significantly the heavier the user, suggesting that it will take time to build core audiences, but that those audiences will follow normal behaviour and spend more time with your content.
Aside from the ways in which we can monitor and drive growth with News Publisher, here are some other points to consider when using the platform:
Articles featured on Apple News tend to have a three day lifespan. A feature in Spotlight, Editorial Group or a notification can extend this lifespan up to a couple of weeks, however — effectively doubling its number of unique views.
The distribution of unique views over days of the week differs from title to title. After accounting for the significant differences in traffic across a number of publications, the following distribution was found for the the month of October, 2018:
There are notable demographic discrepancies across current Apple News’ territories. US audiences seem to be considerably older than in the UK and Australia, with the UK’s audience the youngest. UK and Australian audiences were also generally more likely to use Apple News on iPad. When these are significantly different for a given article, it is possible to predict traffic flow by identifying similar discrepancies. This can be done by cross referencing with other metrics like discovery source and/or time.
It is worth mentioning that there can, at different times, be significant differences in what content audiences find appealing according to territory.
Apple’s commitment to privacy limits the level of analysis or correlation with other analytics tools, but by focusing on overall publisher goals, tracking these and using Apple News analytics carefully, it’s possible to measure and increase growth on the platform.
Building loyalty from the right audience is key to driving consistent growth, with Follows having the most significant effect on the increase of loyal users. Understanding which content works well on Apple News involves manually processing article data, and stories that spike can often differ heavily from content that does well elsewhere, which can be used to help social teams try to resurface content that didn’t gain traction elsewhere.
Spotlight and other Apple News curated areas can drive huge spikes of traffic but the ecosystem as a whole works very well for exposing good stories and depending on the niche of the publication huge spikes from general audiences tend to be less value compared to solid traffic from audiences directed by specific interest or through similar publications.
We offer Apple News analysis as part of our Pro package at FlatPlan, delivering reports that help align Apple News analytics with overall analytics and offering actionable advice on driving growth — just drop us a message if you’d like to discuss this.
Apple has rolled out two big changes to Apple News in the last few weeks, following their annual Keynote event in Cupertino. We felt it would be useful to give a quick rundown on these changes and how they might affect your Apple News strategy moving forward.
Open Apple News now and you’ll notice a number of changes to the look and feel. On iPhone, navigation is now reduced from five icons down to three — Today, Spotlight and Channels. Today replaces “For You” and Spotlight works as it did before, with Channels now offering a route into publications, topics of interest, saved stories and search. On iPad, navigation is now displayed as a slide-out drawer, with Channels listed in order of priority on-screen whenever navigation is expanded.
The app now displays a wider range of stories across a number of views. More space is given to topics and areas like Your Briefings, News Editors’ Picks and News Top Stories help guide users into content arranged by interest or browsing history.
Last week Apple launched Mojave, a new operating system for Mac computers. News is now bundled with this OS, appearing prominently on a walk-through of the new system, with an icon appearing in the dock at all times.
The macOS version is similar to News on iPad, making use of slide-out navigation and a window that opens at a similar view to iPad portrait. Users with linked Apple accounts will notice the app is linked to their devices, sharing publications, interests, saved links and viewing history. Notifications from publishers appear on desktop whenever the app is open.
Apple’s updates to look and feel are likely to aid users to find a wider range of content they’ll enjoy. The new setup means your stories have a higher likelihood of appearing within streams of content and topic groupings give more opportunity for stories to appear to those who don’t follow your publication. Apple’s algorithms and natural language processing handle how these appear, so aside from creating well-written, clearly defined content, you don’t need to do anything more here.
Channels give more opportunity to drive users to your channel, particularly on iPad and Mac where your publication name appears prominently. Apple recommends uploading an icon to drive brand recognition — if we look after your publication on News we’ve done this for you already.
More prominent channel links put more emphasis on ensuring the page users arrive to is as compelling as possible. Our advice is to ensure all stories appear on the first tab — removing sections completely may even make sense in many cases. Promoted Articles allow you to maximise impact by pushing your very best stories to the top of your channel. To promote an article, log in to News Publisher and hit the star icon. Promoted articles remove themselves from the top of the page after a few days.
If you’re a Preferred Partner, Apple News appearing on macOS gives a new opportunity to reach a ‘bored at work’ audience. We’d recommend testing notifications at times users at work are likely to be looking for a short distraction. Analytics on your main site will give clues to these timings but behaviour may differ on Apple News so trial a few times and dig into Apple’s analytics for data. It’s worth keeping an eye on competitors if they have notification functionality — users who arrive through notifications may, of course, dive into the article stream (and potentially see your content), so avoiding crossover could help increase impact.
As Apple News grows we’d suggest a focus on increasing publication follows. The user that clicks the heart icon is much more likely to see your stories and if you have notifications enabled they’ll receive this prompt. FlatPlan is the only system that allows Call to Actions for this in footers and we’re testing functionality to help increase follows which we’ll be messaging about soon, but it’s certainly worth thinking about how to drive follows from an editorial perspective as well.
One final thought from us — behaviour is likely to change as more people use the app across new devices. Apple News doesn’t sync with Google Analytics so make sure your team keep an eye on Apple’s analytics. You can set your team up to receive a daily, weekly or monthly analytics report by email — to do this head to Analytics > Recurring Report or just hit reply if you’d like us to help.