Apple News is reportedly failing to provide the ad revenues that news publishers expected, despite its ability to reach 90 million readers. A new report by DigiDay highlights the current issues faced by Apple’s new service, as Apple is said to be struggling to sign news publishers for its upcoming news subscription service.
Last year, Apple News brimmed with promise for publishers, offering an engaged, high-quality audience that seemed to do nothing but grow. Ad revenue wasn’t great, but at the start of 2018, most publishers assumed that would come around.
However, struggling news publishers say that one year later, monetization on Apple News “remains a slog.”
Ad revenue is bogged down by advertisers’ disinterest in the ad inventory that publishers are selling directly, and by remnant ad fill rates that many publishers describe as abysmal, even after a modest improvement to start the year, sources said. One source said their publication earned “low five-figures” every month from Apple News; another said they earned less than $1,000 per month.
However, although faced with monetization challenges, the publishers that spoke with DigiDay saw steady audience growth during the past year, and are seeing more referral traffic from Apple News than they are receiving from Facebook.
But publishers contacted for this story all reported seeing steady growth in audience over the past year. For three sources, Apple News now drives more referral traffic than Facebook does. Getting featured in the product’s human-curated Top News widget inside Apple News can drive enormous boosts in traffic, sources said. Getting articles into Apple News’s content recirculation widget, which recommends stories for users to read next, can make a story one of the highest-read stories a publisher can share in a month, one source said.
The information comes from a sample of seven major news publishers that contribute to Apple News. The seven all report extremely low sales of advertising around their stories and also unusually low numbers of ads being shown to readers in the first place.
One publisher source said that until the beginning of 2019, the fill rate on their remnant Apple News inventory was less than 20 percent. This source said it was such an “atrociously low” number that it made publishing on Apple News less lucrative than publishing through Google’s AMP format or even Facebook Instant Articles, which many publishers abandoned because of its monetization issues.
The lower than expected ad revenue are forcing publishers to look for other ways to monetize their content, exploring ways to drive readers to paywalls, podcasts, and other revenue drivers, as well as how to convert casual readers into newsletter subscribers.
Another challenge facing publishers is Apple’s reluctance to share information about their users. On publisher told DigiDay, “I respect Apple and that they believe in privacy, it just makes it incredibly challenging to sell there.”