Apple Opens Its News Service to Publishers of All Kinds

Apple Unveils iPhone 6
CUPERTINO, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Apple CEO Tim Cook speaks during an Apple special event at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts on September 9, 2014 in Cupertino, California. Apple unveiled the Apple Watch wearable tech and two new iPhones, the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photograph by Justin Sullivan — Getty Images

The battle of the giant news platforms continues. Apple said Tuesday it is opening up its Apple News service to all publishers, not just those who have formed a partnership with the consumer electronics giant. Now, anyone who publishes content online—including individual bloggers and authors—will be able to distribute their articles to Apple users in the company’s proprietary Apple News format.

When Apple first launched its News app in September as a replacement for the old Newsstand feature on iOS devices, it did so by partnering with a large group of traditional publishers such as the New York Times and Bloomberg. While anyone could apply to distribute their RSS feed through the app, they didn’t have access to the Apple News format until now.

Now all a potential News publisher has to do is go to the iCloud website and sign in with an Apple ID, and then use the Apple Publisher tools to connect a content source to the service using a custom API or software interface. (Apple says there are a number of third-party plugins that make this easy for a variety of publishing platforms, including WordPress.)

Apple (AAPL) says it is also offering publishers improved access to a variety of analytics about their content, including how many times an article was viewed and the average time spent on the article. The company will also tell publishers whether an article was shared and if so how many times, and how (through email, instant messaging, Facebook or Twitter).

The move by Apple to make its proprietary platform widely available comes not long after another massive company did something very similar with its news-related service. Last year, Facebook (FB) launched a trial project called Instant Articles. Designed to reduce load times of mobile webpages, the service was also recently opened up for virtually anyone to use.

Much like Apple’s offering, Facebook’s Instant Articles started out as a partners-only program, with high-profile publishers like the New York Times, Washington Post and The Guardian on board. In some cases, those media outlets have funneled 100% of their daily output through the program, which re-formats their articles so they load more quickly on mobile devices.

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Meanwhile, Google (GOOG) has been working on an Instant Articles-style offering called Accelerated Mobile Pages for some time. The company recently announced that AMP results will start showing up in search. But unlike Facebook’s project or the Apple News service, Google’s AMP has been open to anyone who wants to adopt the standard from the beginning—since it is an open-source project, with all the formats and implementation publicly available on Github.

There are some key differences between the various offerings: Facebook’s Instant Articles, like everything else on the social network, are governed by the company’s filtering algorithms, which determine who sees what and when. Apple uses mostly human editors to curate specific news articles from different feeds. Google, meanwhile, doesn’t specifically filter content but has said that AMP-enabled pages will likely show up more prominently in search, since page-loading speed is one of its ranking criteria.

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Since it launched, there have been some bumps with Apple’s news platform. Publishers complained that they weren’t getting enough data from the company about how their articles were performing, and Apple admitted that it had been counting users of the service incorrectly. Now the company says that more than 40 million people have used Apple News since it launched, which makes it about half the size of the Flipboard news app.

Apple is also offering publishers a new “sponsored content” or native advertising format that they can integrate into their Apple News feeds, according to a recent report from Business Insider. As with Facebook’s Instant Articles, publishers can choose to sell their own ads and keep 100% of the proceeds, or have Apple do it and keep 70%.

In another attempt to cater more to the needs of publishers, Apple is also reportedly looking at offering support for subscription plans and paywalls around specific content, something Facebook doesn’t offer but Google does. It’s unclear whether publishers who use that feature will have to pay the company its usual 30% cut of any proceeds, the way they did when they used Newsstand.

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