Updates on the publisher relationship with Facebook, Apple, and Google

The relationship between publisher and platform, no matter the platform, is one fraught with often competing needs. Over the years, we have seen more and more publishers prioritise owning the relationship with their audience directly, rather than being at the mercy of the platform. We all remember the much-hyped newsfeed changes on Facebook in 2018, which actually only cut the amount of news on its newsfeed from 5% to 4%. As we enter the 2nd half of 2020 (with the first half feeling like 5 years), we’re checking back in on the publisher’s relationship with Facebook, Apple, and Google.

Facebook: Algorithm changed to boost original reporting (in English)

It is not just with the advertising boycott that Facebook has made news this week: they just announced they will begin prioritising original reporting. This is one of many ways Facebook has attempted to reach out to the journalism community in recent years, with interesting insights coming out of its accelerator program this past month.

In this update, Facebook will give a boost to stories from the original source, which will be analysed by looking at groups of articles on a specific topic and identifying which organisation is most widely cited as the original source. The team behind this change also made sure to note that defining original reporting is complex so they will continue to work with publishers and academics to further refine and improve their approach.

This update also includes a prioritisation of content with transparent authorship, meaning clear bylines or a staff page on the publication’s website. The factors behind Facebook’s newsfeed can be explored further in this report.

For our audience which is very international, it is important to highlight that this update only applies to content in English for now; there has been no announced plan for content in other languages.

Apple News: Loses The New York Times

The recent Reuters Digital News Report highlighted that Apple News+ appeared to have failed to break through outside of the US, this week we saw Apple News itself has stumbled even in the US. The New York Times announced they are pulling their content from Apple News.

In an interview with media analyst Ken Doctor, COO Meredith Levien explained: “It’s time to re-examine all of our relationships with the big platforms.” To do this, the team is reviewing their relationships with platforms on three factors:

  • The role the platform plays in bringing audiences to The New York Times
  • How the platform helps The New York Times achieve their main objective: scale direct relationships, getting readers to form a habit, and ultimately pay
  • The value equation, comparing the substantial value the platform receives from the Times’ investment in original journalism

Based on these three factors, it no longer made sense for The New York Times to be on Apple News. Prior to this decision, they had already started last year to limit the number of stories they gave to Apple News. With the mass reach The New York Times already has (3 of out 5 American adults accessed The Times in March), this might not be a sign of trouble for Apple News as a whole. Other publishers are generally not able to achieve such reach today, so the trade-off for further reach might be more worth it.

Still, being on Apple News, and other aggregators, risks readers creating a habit with the platform and not your content itself. In today’s world of reader disloyalty, habit formation is all the more important. Make sure to join us on July 7th as we explore the topic of habit forming news products in a free webinar for our community.

Habit-Webinar

Google: Paying licensing fee to select publishers

Recently Google announced it will launch a new licensing program to support the news industry. Starting later this year, Google will pay certain publishers for their high-quality content for a still to be defined news experience. This program will start in three countries: Germany, Australia, and Brazil. As possible, Google will also offer to pay for free access for users to read paywalled articles, allowing publishers to reach wider audiences. What this means exactly is still to be seen.

 We are always keen to explore innovative ways to attract readers to our high-quality content. This interesting new partnership with Google will allow us to curate an experience that will bring our award-winning editorial voice into play, broaden our outreach and provide trusted news in a compelling way across Google products.

Stefan Ottlitz, managing director of Der Spiegel

Other publishers that have joined this program include in Germany, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Zeit, Tagesspiegel and Rheinische Post; in Australia, Schwartz Media and Solstice Media; and A Gazeta and Diarios Associados in Brazil.

So far the financial details on this program have not been shared publicly.

Apple iOS: Changing requirements for apps

Starting June 30th, Apple is now enforcing a rule that requires many apps in its App Store to support ‘Sign in with Apple.’ This change has pushed some applications to publicly announce they will make the necessary changes to avoid this, although no newspapers have done so yet.

One such app that has said it will not support ‘Sign in with Apple’ is the grocery shopping list app AnyList. In a blog post explaining their reasoning, they said this decision is to prevent a customer support headache and improve the user experience.

While it is important to note that this rule only applies if the app allows other third party logins, such as with Facebook and Google, sign in with Apple has some unique challenges. One problem is that most Apple IDs are tied to an iCloud email address, which is rarely ever someone’s ‘real’ email account so they may not be checking this inbox. Sign in with Apple also has a feature that hides the user’s email from the app developers. While this might provide a measure of privacy for users, it once again causes additional friction in the user experience. Users have to know this address if they want to be able to login to the app from a non-Apple platform.

There’s also the concern that Sign in with Apple is less than a year old and recently a massive security flaw was found with it, which resulted in Apple paying $100,000 as part of its Security Bounty program.

The relationship between publishers and Apple is also under the spotlight due to the growing need to offer in-app purchases in which Apple takes a large portion of the revenue. This came to a head with the new email app Hey, which saw Apple threatening to yank the app from its app store if in-app purchase was not added. This rule has been long standing, but many apps have skirted the issue by avoiding in-app purchases completely. Tech giants such as Netflix and Spotify do not allow customers to sign up for their services on the iPhone or iPad app. We have been seeing more and more publishers facing trouble with their apps due to this rule, so we plan to further research this issue. Sign-up to receive our findings, or get in touch if you have thoughts on this.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe
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