By: D. B. Hebbard
Already gone was the App Store inside iTunes, now Apple has eliminated the subcategories for publisher’s digital edition apps, and put the emphasis on the apps Apple wants to promote, or publishers are willing to pay to have promoted
It would have been hard to make the Apple App Store less useful for media app developers, but somehow, miraculously, Apple found a way to do it with the release of iOS 11.
The App Store has been a mess for a long time now, about four years actually.
To recap: in November 2011, Apple launched the Newsstand, its digital newsstand for publishers. It was an immediate hit with both readers and publishers, and everyone rushed in with an app. App vendors proliferated, many offering publishers a way to get their magazines or newspapers into the App Store for free, so long as they shared revenue with the vendors.
Some started to see a big problem pretty early on: readers who signed up for a monthly subscription, often to get a discount on a single issue, cancelled when given the chance each month when notified by Apple.
Apple, too, saw a problem: they are a multi-billion dollar company, and selling newspapers and magazines is penny-ante stuff. By 2013, Apple had simple quit on their publishing partners, and soon the App Store team stopped maintaining the subcategories — so important to publishers.
Apple did away with the Newsstand a couple of years ago and created the Magazines & Newspapers category. The advantage to publishers was that their subscription apps could now be in whatever category they wanted. The subcategories of Magazines & Newspapers, though, were not fixed and for the past four years, though the Newsstand and now the Magazines & Newspapers category, publishers have seen just how little Apple really cared about them.
Now, today, iOS 11 introduces a brand new App Store… and somehow Eddy Cue found a way to make the App Store worse.
The first thing you will notice with the new store is that it is divided into Today, Games, Apps, Updates and Search. I suppose separating out games from other apps is a good thing, simply a division that makes each section less large.
The Today section is all about Apple and what they want to promote. If you are lucky enough to have an app featured here you will see huge downloads.
In the Apps section, there are the same categories you’ve always seen, including the Magazines & Newspapers category. What about those subcategories, such as Arts & Photography, Automotive, Brides & Weddings, etc.? Well, they are gone. Completely gone. Now, the thousands of digital edition apps are all dumped into the master category. It is as if Barnes & Noble mixed all the magazines in their store randomly on the shelf.
But it is even worse than that.
Now, when the iPad or iPhone user opens up the Magazines & Newspapers category they are presented with a few apps promoted at the top (today it is the WSJ, The New Yorker Magazine and the NYT). Then below is a section called “Apps We Love” a collection of 17 apps selected by Apple. Below that is Top Paid and Top Free.
The only way a system like this could work would be if Apple had improved its search mechanism, so let’s test it out.
A search for “music magazines” gave me Tidal (which is music, but not a magazine) and Mormon Channel (no comment). A second search for “construction magazine” was much better in that it pulled up several familiar titles. It also pulled up the first ad I saw, for Fieldwire, a job-site app. A search for cooking magazines was similar, with familiar magazines found, plus an ad for Hello Fresh.
Did you notice that I did not link to any of the apps? That is because Apple has killed off the URL links for apps. You can search on your Mac or PC browser for, say, ‘New Yorker Magazine AND iTunes’ and the app will show up, but the link that was there to iTunes is now dead. Why? Because iTunes no longer supports apps.
(By the way, if you do not update iTunes the old App Store is still there, including the subcategories inside Magazines & Newspapers.)
So, what does this mean for publishers? It means that creating a digital edition app for Apple’s iOS no longer makes no sense. The platform that for years was the one developers looked to first when developing media apps should now be the last. I’ve completely flipped in favor of Google’s Android as the most important mobile platform for publishers.
Of course, one could still launch standalone iOS apps, but it will be terribly hard to promote them, you can’t link to them any longer, so your reader will have to know exactly what the name is and how to find it.
Many people have believed for a while that the digital edition app is dead, but I have held out hope that they were wrong. But because of the way the new APP Store is designed, launching a new iOS media app into any category will be like throwing a pebble into the sea, then trying to retrieve it.
Other changes effecting publishers:
Apple News in iOS 11 has a new tab called “Spotlight” where Apple selects news stories, picked by the Apple News editorial staff, each day. Readers using the feature will undoubtedly boost the readership of some stories.
Right now, TNM’s traffic through Apple News is like the heart beat of a very old person: peaks followed by long periods of silence. On good days, Apple News readership dwarfs that of the web, but that is because the Morning Brief tends to include political news, that is what Apple promotes. The posts that most TNM readers come to the site to find hardly are ever read through Apple News. No surprise, I suppose, Apple News is terrible for trade publishers.
Safari in iOS 11 places has a new feature that prevents websites from tracking readers across multiple sites. This doesn’t limit the ads, but it does limit the useful data marketers will receive.
“This could be a double edged sword for publishers,” Keith Sibson VP of Product & Marketing at PostUp told TNM. “The change in Safari will make programmatic advertising less effective with those users, and especially impactful to retargeting ads.”
The move is designed to be of benefit to web readers, but it will once again prove how unfriendly Apple is to marketers.
“This could help drive advertisers further into the arms of Google and Facebook, which do not rely as heavily on 3rd party cookies to track users and so will be less affected by this change,” Sibson said. “However, with this change programmatic ad technology firms deliver less value for advertisers, and ad-tech firms have been taking a larger and larger cut of advertising spend. So it could be beneficial to publishers in that advertisers may be more motivated to buy ad inventory directly from publishers, which is far more lucrative for the publisher.”
A few other impressions:
iOS 11 contains some good updates for device owners (if you forget about the new App Store). For instance, one can now view GIFs from within the Photos app, and other changes will be useful, especially for those with newer devices. But, let’s be honest, the Apple rumor sites are really struggling to make a big deal out of the changes in iOS 11, it just isn’t that big a difference.
I loaded iOS 11 onto my iPad mini 2, which will probably be the last time that device gets a major update (I didn’t want to load it on a device I use every day, at least not right away). I found the iPad no more sluggish than it was on iOS 10, which I suppose is a good thing.
Apple, though, better watch out with these updates. More and more, those with iPhones and iPads are choosing to hang on to their devices longer, and there are good reasons for this. First, Apple has raised the price on the newest models; and second, there is simply not a good reason to upgrade one’s device so frequently, the differences between models is getting smaller and smaller.
As far as speed of the update, this one may have been the fastest so far, so those that usually wait a day or two probably can go ahead and install iOS 11. Also, it is still best to do these updates by plugging your device into your Mac or PC and doing it through iTunes — it solves the issue of having a lack of storage space available on your device.