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Apple takes another crack at news with a Flipboard-style app

If you own an Apple device and you’re like most people, you probably have an app called Newsstand, either hidden on one of your less-used screens or tucked away inside a folder. It isn’t really an app at all, but more of a content hub, where all your newspaper and magazine apps are supposed to live. But according to most publishers, Newsstand has actually been a content graveyard—a place where media goes to die.

Now Apple has announced that Newsstand will cease to exist, replaced by a Flipboard-style app simply called News. But will its second crack at owning the news be any more successful than its first?

The announcement was part of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference or WWDC (about which there is more here and here), which included a number of new enhancements and features for the next version of the Mac operating system and its iOS mobile software. For media companies, the News app represents at least a chance to finally get out of the Newsstand content ghetto and into the daily habits of news readers and consumers.

One of the biggest issues with Newsstand was that users seemed to forget it was there, and so content disappeared inside it, like a black hole from which nothing could escape. Despite this, news apps from publishers were forced to live inside Newsstand, which was a significant barrier for many of them in achieving any kind of mass adoption or revenue, despite Apple’s massive consumer base. Now they will be able to sell their apps inside the App Store like everyone else, as well as having the option to participate in the News app.



For publishers, the best part about the News app—which looks very similar to Flipboard in that it takes a magazine-style approach to displaying content from a variety of sources—will be the chance to potentially boost their revenue. Much like Facebook’s recently-launched “Instant Articles” experiment, media companies who partner with Apple get 100% of the advertising revenue for ads they sell within the app, or 70% of the revenue from any advertising around their content that gets sold by Apple.

As Josh Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab points out in an overview of Apple’s announcements, there’s no guarantee that the company’s latest effort will succeed–either from a user’s point of view or a publisher’s point of view. Apple is notoriously good at building devices and notoriously bad at offering services, despite how good they tend to look when being demoed at a developer conference.

Google made a move very similar to Apple’s when it launched an app it called Currents in 2011. Despite having a wide range of publishers and content sources on board for that project, it more or less cratered. Why? Presumably because users were getting the news and content they wanted in other places—and one of the biggest places they have been getting it is Facebook. In that sense, the Apple News app is more of a competitive response to Facebook than anything else, albeit one that is long overdue.



From a media company perspective, meanwhile, taking a flyer on Apple is kind of a no-brainer, since, if it works, it could theoretically get content in front of hundreds of millions of iOS users. Furthermore, there’s one major incentive for media companies to consider— even if News doesn’t work, it couldn’t possibly be any worse than Newsstand.