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Should You Pay For Apple News+? Warning: It Has Issues

Of the services Apple revealed at its 25 March 2019 special event, only one—the Apple News+ digital magazine service, a paid add-on to the company’s free News app—was actually made available (see “Apple News+ Debuts With Magazines, Newspapers, and Web Sites,” 25 March 2019).

This was great news for information junkies who gained access to a treasure trove of additional content—primarily magazines, with a handful of newspapers and news Web sites thrown in. At $9.99 per month—with multiple members of a Family Sharing household able to maintain their own reading preferences for that single fee—Apple News+ will strike many as tempting.

However, the service has omissions, compromises, and a few rough edges, and some of these might prevent you from subscribing. It’s easy to check for yourself—the first month is free—but I recommend setting a reminder to cancel the subscription before you’re charged in case you don’t find it meets your needs.

Some Content Is Missing

Apple News+ seems like a bargain because it provides access to top publications like the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal that cost more than all of Apple News+ if procured individually elsewhere.

But what is it missing? TidBITS reader Duane Williams noted that the version of the New Yorker offered via Apple News+ is missing some of the features found in the print magazine and on the magazine’s own site. These largely New York City-specific omissions may not trouble you—the main columns and articles seem to be present—but know that you’re not getting exactly what you would in print. (And as reader Marilyn Matty, who worked in advertising for many years, explains in that discussion and one other, many magazines produce multiple editions even in print, so there may not be a single canonical version.)

The Wall Street Journal is an even more extreme example of this “curation.” On the face of things, it offers only a selection of its articles via Apple News+. Other content is supposed to be lurking below the surface, and available via searching, but articles I’ve wanted to read have sometimes proven elusive. And those are just the ones that I knew to search for. And the accessible archive will reportedly contain only 3 days of content from the newspaper.

However, TidBITS reader Doug Miller found a clever way to search better (the Apple News search is weak at best) and to access at least some articles that are older than 3 days, though not the full archive. He wrote:

You can go to the WSJ.com Web site in Safari in iOS, open any article there, and if it is for subscribers only, hit the share icon, share to Open in Apple News, and it will open the full article in Apple News if you are a News+ subscriber.

Is Apple News+ a Good Value?

Not necessarily. As we noted in our earlier coverage, public libraries offer online versions of magazines for free via digital partners such as Flipster and RBdigital. But whether you regard these as acceptable alternatives to Apple News+ depends on which magazines you like to read.

I was excited about Apple News+ at first. After doing an inventory of my preferred magazines, however, I realized it might be a waste of money.

Many of my favorite titles, such as Macworld and Wired, are available to me using RBdigital via the St. Paul Public Library or at the Minneapolis Public Library. Others, including Fortune, Fast Company, and Bloomberg Businessweek aren’t—but I can get much of their content for free on their Web sites. All public library systems are different, so check with your library to see what it offers in terms of digital magazine services and how they line up with your preferences.

Libraries aside, the real question is if you’re spending more than $120 per year on periodicals. In our recent survey, only about 25% of TidBITS readers said they spent more than that each year (see“Survey Responses: Apple Music and Apple News+,” 8 April 2019). If you’re getting all you want to read for less money, there’s little advantage to Apple News+.

In fact, for many news junkies, the News app’s plethora of free news content might be more than sufficient without all the additional titles available in Apple News+. Do you have time to read more than you’re reading now?

A Suboptimal Reading Experience

An advantage of Apple News+ over other digital magazine services is formatting. Many publications on the service have been reworked and made adaptable for a range of Apple’s devices, from a 27-inch iMac to a 4-inch iPhone SE. Some titles even have animated covers.

However, many titles—about half of the roughly 250 magazines available—have not received this retooling. Time and time again, I found issues that provided little more than digital snapshots of their original printed pages, which are all but impossible to read on smaller screens.

Even reformatted content looks lousy on the Mac, but that’s a general problem with the Mac’s awkward “Marzipan” News app ported from iOS. It’s a terrible Mac app, with no attention to the sort of conventions and user-interface niceties Mac users expect.

Beyond the comparison with other digital magazine services, Apple News+ isn’t entirely successful in expanding from a collection of articles to an interface for reading a coherent magazine. Although most magazines seem to have a table of contents, at least the New Yorker’s editors chose, oddly, to rearrange the table of contents to focus on feature articles, thus confusing the structure of the magazine. Others may have done so as well.

Speaking of which, when you’re in a magazine, the News app doesn’t help you understand where in the issue you are in terms of what articles came before or come next, or how much you have left to read overall. (There is a bar on the right edge of each article that shows roughly where inside an article you are.) Such confusions don’t exist when reading unrelated individual articles in Apple News as it has been up to this point, but they’re disconcerting when you expect the full magazine experience.

Finally, magazines in Apple News+ still have ads—you didn’t think you were going to get away without ads, did you?—and in some cases, like Runner’s World, they can be difficult to distinguish from the reformatted article leads. And if you were interested in a shoe ad, don’t bother tapping or clicking to learn more—it won’t do anything.

Where Are My Favorites?

Apple News+ is derived from Texture, a digital magazine service that Apple bought a year ago (see “Apple Acquires the Digital Magazine Service Texture,” 12 March 2018). Texture fans might find Apple News+ a bit confusing and possibly disappointing.

For instance, Texture collected users’ favorite magazines—both current and back issues—in a My Library section for convenient access. Apple News+ has no such thing. Apple News+’s My Magazines area does something different, showing current and recent reads regardless of whether these are users’ favorites. I have no interest in Elle, but it’s now shown annoyingly at the top of my app’s main screen because I happened to read an Elle story that looked interesting.

Apple News+ has a workaround, but it’s clunky; go to a magazine’s homepage within the app, tap the heart-shaped “like” button at the top, and the magazine gets added to the app sidebar along with items in the free portion of the News app. That’s fine, but this approach does not scale well. The sidebar quickly becomes long and cluttered.

By the way, Apple is shutting down Texture on 28 May 2019.

Will Apple News+ Help Publishers?

Some might subscribe to Apple News+ as a way to help magazine and newspaper publishers in what has been an increasingly embattled journalism industry. As a reporter and Web producer at a major metropolitan newspaper, I thank you for that impulse!

However, Apple News+ isn’t likely to help publishers in a major way. Most seem to see it as a necessary evil that may generate some revenue and that they hope will increase direct subscriptions. Over at Digiday, one publisher was quoted as saying “You’re not generating subscribers [with Apple News+], you’re getting revenue. It’s going down a rabbit hole.” Another was even blunter: “Their pitch was we are going to take over the news business. Join us or get left in the dust.”

Direct subscriptions are a far more effective way to support your favorite publications. Otherwise, Apple takes a cut of your $9.99-per-month payment, and what’s left has to be shared among all the Apple News+ publications you read. It will be a pittance.

Direct subscriptions needn’t be expensive, either; a New York Times digital-only subscription was just $1 per week the last time I checked, and I got a similar $1-per-week deal from the Washington Post through June. And again, how much time do you really have to read ephemeral content?

The Bottom Line

Apple News+ needs work.

Current and would-be subscribers deserve a more complete accounting of what they get and don’t get for their money—that’s a little thing we in the journalism business call transparency.

It would be nice if the full catalog received a digital revamping for comfortable reading on a variety of display sizes, but that’s largely up to the magazines, not Apple. Such a move is important to set Apple News+ apart from free services available via the public libraries you support with your tax dollars; those services are a bit crude.

And while an Apple News+ subscription may be better than nothing when it comes to supporting the struggling journalism industry, it’s far from a panacea.

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Comments About Should You Pay For Apple News+? Warning: It Has Issues

Notable Replies

  1. I would consider a subscription, especially since Family Sharing is included. At this point I do not like the “nag” messages that I get with the default news sources provided when you start using it. It’s like bumping into the paywall with every click. For me it’s a disincentive tp use the app despite the fact that a lot of the content is actually free of charge.

  2. The biggest attraction of Apple News+ to publishers may be building up their total circulation to help them sell advertising. I used to work in the trade magazine industry, and they rely entirely on advertising for their income. Many other big-circulation magazines, like the New Yorker, also rely heavily on advertising; that’s how they offer cheap subscriptions.

  3. Frankly, as a long-time Texture subscriber, I’m very disappointed with Apple News. Since you used The New Yorker in your review, let me note that Talk of the Town and Comment are no longer included. With Texture, I got a replica of the magazine that allowed me to “read” it in its entirety.

    Texture has been discontinued, so there really isn’t any other option other than Apple News. For me, it’s a no-go. This app needs to be more Texture-esque, with back issues and the complete content of any magazine I’m reading.

  4. Great cautionary tale, Julio.

    Though I’ve really enjoyed Apple News since the beginning (and been stumped why Apple ever allowed the Marzipan version to go live on the Mac!), I’ve been comparing-and-contrasting it with FlipBoard for some time.

    FlipBoard is a much more logically laid out user interface and I’ve always loved that I could upload my OPML file to get RSS feeds from any site or blog that offers it. So I’ve added all of my feeds in to the mix so I can read the curated selections by FlipBoard as well as have one app for all of my reading.

    Sometimes I get frustrated with Apple’s recommendation engine that starts showing me People magazine articles since I happened to choose one or two to read in some previous browsing session. So many times I’ve found myself so befuddled over the availability and presentation of articles by some publication, all while seeking a specific one I’d read previously.

    Here’s hoping Apple will quickly accelerate development of News+.

  5. Direct subscriptions needn’t be expensive, either; a New York Times digital-only subscription was just $1 per week the last time I checked, and I got a similar $1-per-week deal from the Washington Post through June.

    I have regularly priced digital-only subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Post’s “Basic Digital” sub costs me $9.99+tax per month at the Apple App Store. The Times digital sub is not through Apple; it costs me $20+tax every 4 weeks.

    I’m just posting these numbers for others to compare with. There may be ways to get these newspapers cheaper on an on-going basis.

  6. Keep in mind that publications, print and digital, need revenue to stay in business. Publishers bring in little, if any, revenue from Apple News. I’ve read that The NY Times, and some other publications have been able to grow subscription numbers via the nagging messages in News. I think that’s why The NY Times and Washington Post haven’t signed up for News+.

    News+ publications will generate some revenue from the $9.99 fee and advertising. Like Apple News, it will keep advertising, esp. the annoying auto play stuff, at a minimum. And tracking too.

  7. You can’t delete downloaded magazines.

    Yes, that’s odd but true. There’s no way to delete a magazine issue you’ve manually downloaded, a fact I confirmed with applecare. Issues that are automatically downloaded self-delete after 30 days, they say.

  8. Here’s a reason why a lot of publishers will probably stick with News+. Keep in mind that Condé Nast is one of the biggest and most prestigious publishers, and that every name removed from a masthead means a lot more people who weren’t acknowledged in print also got axed:

  9. Here’s a good dollars and cents analysis that sheds some light about why Apple has invested so much in the news business:

    Why so many publications have already signed up for News+:

    “That $4.7 billion is nearly as much as the $5.1 billion brought in by the United States news industry as a whole from digital advertising last year — and the News Media Alliance cautioned that its estimate for Google’s income was conservative. For one thing, it does not count the value of the personal data the company collects on consumers every time they click on an article like this one.”

    If they counted the revenue from retargeting and sales, $4.7 billion would be a drop in the bucket.

  10. I can see why publishers would be desperate for any sort of income stream, but speaking as one, I’ve never seen any partnership arrangement that actually provided any significant amount of revenue. If TidBITS didn’t have direct reader support, we wouldn’t exist. I’m actually really happy about that, since it makes it easy to turn down proposals from various ad networks that want to crud up our site and track our readers.

  11. I had to sign up for a trial to work on an article about it, and I don’t think I used it a single time before canceling. I just can’t bring myself to care.

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