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Apple Throws Publishers Another Curve Ball

As first reported by Re/code, and later announced during its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple is launching a Flipboard-like, content-aggregation app called News. Re/code also reported that Apple plans to do away with Newsstand, which at this point amounts to a mercy killing. Apple did not mention the fate of Newsstand during the WWDC.

"News is beautiful content from the world's greatest sources, personalized for you," said Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, at WWDC. 

When Newsstand launched, the objective was to provide magazine and newspaper publishers with a walled garden for readers to find and purchase digital publications. For many reasons, reality never matched the original vision.

The end of Newsstand amounts to the mama bird kicking its baby off the tree branch to see if it can fly on its own, as digital magazines will now join the general publicOpens in a new window in the iTunes App Store.

Discoverability was a major issue for publications in a world of a few thousand apps. Swimming in the same pool as hundreds of thousands of other choices in the App Store will push all but the top titles further into needle-in-the-haystack territory.

Apple follows in the footsteps of tech giants such as Facebook, Snapchat, Yahoo, and others, which have also developed their own aggregation apps. There's money to be made on the hard work of others and publishers are all too happy to accommodate these modernized RSS feeds while participating in the pyramid scheme known as pursuing scale.

"Content is King" is a cliché but it's also true in this era in which technology companies need content partners to fuel their products. At the same time, publishers are seeking as many distribution channels as possible to attract as many eyeballs as possible. Technology companies develop those channels knowing publishers will join them in hopes of eventually luring more traffic to their own branded app or website. Generating revenue from these partnerships is a secondary or nonexistent goal for publishers.

This announcement about News, which will launch this fall with the new iOS 9 as a preloaded native app, further reinforces the migration of readers consuming magazine content through mobile apps as opposed to the mobile web. The native app launched in March by Fast Company in a partnership with Adobe, which is revamping its publishing software to focus on native app development, foreshadowed this next phase of the digital revolution.

"Whether folks acknowledge it or not, this world is moving very quickly and the patterns readers and users have is changing," Fast Company Editor-in-Chief, Robert Safian told Publishing Executive Magazine in April. "We have to change our product offerings and diversify them."

Finally, another trend continues to build steam and is directly affecting the magazine publishing industry. Readers on mobile devices are demanding "now content" spurring publishers to add new editorial throughout the day. This flies in the face of a traditional magazine, which produces batches of content on a periodical schedule.

For the last few years, the debate during the digital explosion has been whether or not print is dead. Nevermind print vs. digital. The very existence of magazines as we know them just underwent another radical shift. Print magazines may not die, but instead of being the driving force behind a publishing company's business model, it will play a supporting role in a mobile-driven world with regularly created content.

This shift didn't need to happen, but many publishers find themselves in a position of trying to catch a falling knife after largely copying the newspaper industry, which commoditized its content. There's no turning back now, so the major publishers have to play ball in hopes of attracting a larger audience. Meanwhile, the mid-sized, regional, and niche publishers get screwed again as the small fish get smaller while the digital pond gets larger.

Change keeps happening in the publishing industry and it's happening fast. Apple's announcement Monday is yet another shakeup to the industry. Just as publishers think they are starting to figure out the answers, the questions get changed again.


by Rob Matejko

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