Apple News+: Lots of Content, but User Experience and Pricing Problems

Bottom Line

Apple News+ is not a bad service, but, on its own, it is not threatening to other device or content vendors. The user experience needs to improve, and Apple needs to reorganize its services management. 


Analytical Summary

I have been testing Apple News+ for the last week on an iPhone XS, iPad mini, and iPad Pro 11". It's nice, but it has three flaws at launch:

It’s expensive. At $120/year it is rather pricey. It cannot replace the full Wall Street Journal paper or digital subscription. It can be far more expensive than paper subscriptions to BusinessWeek, WIRED, Sound & Vision, and Car & Driver combined. Deeply discounted magazine subscription pricing is an artifact of declining magazine subscriptions and publishers using cheap offers through resellers to pump up subscription numbers for advertisers. Still, we recently paid $6 for a full year of WIRED, including printing and home delivery. 

The user experience is disjointed. Having everything on a digital device is great, and it is enjoyable to browse selections from New York Magazine, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, and more. However, many of the magazines are just static scans, which is not a good experience at all. Paging over the ads is only a minor annoyance for a paid subscription; more troubling is the fact that you cannot jump to articles from the table of contents.

Canceling Apple subscriptions is maddeningly unintuitive and non-discoverable. To subscribe to Apple News+, you open the Apple News app, click on the News+ tab, and you’re done. To unsubscribe to Apple News+, you do not open the Apple News app. It is not in the News entry in Settings, and cannot be found in Wallet & Apple Pay, which might be how you are paying for it. Subscriptions are actually buried in the iTunes Store app. Even if you open the app, you still might not find it: first you must scroll all the way to the bottom; tap on your ID; View Apple ID; scroll down a full screen; tap on Subscriptions. This placement probably was not specifically designed to make it difficult to cancel services, but it cannot be dismissed as completely unintentional, either – Apple doesn't make you sign upfor News+ in iTunes, because that would be insane. Still, this is mostly an uncorrected result of Apple’s historical approach to stuffing all sorts of unrelated things into iTunes. Now that Apple is building out multiple services around the iOS ecosystem, Apple needs to move Services and Subscriptions into its own iOS Settings entry.

[Update: Benedict Evans pointed out on Twitter that Subscriptions can also be managed in the App Store App if you click on the User Account icon in the top right hand corner. This better than expecting consumers to somehow know to navigate through the iTunes Store app, but still not centralized within iOS.]

Competitive Landscape

Publishers: Apple News+ certainly makes sense for publishers. For most of them, it's found money coming from a unique distribution platform. Publishers with proven digital distribution platforms of their own have largely resisted Apple News+, and that is unlikely to change unless Apple builds a large enough installed base for the math to work (this could happen with bundles; see below). 

Competitors: Apple News+ is a reasonable service for Apple to offer, but, by itself, Apple News+ does not lock people into the iOS ecosystem. (Apple Card is more competitive in this respect.) Rival hardware vendors do not need to build their own publishing platform. They could preload Flipboard – Samsung used to – or offer discounted subscriptions to publications that Apple lacks, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, The Economist, or relevant local content outside the U.S. For other content aggregators, though, the situation is different: Amazon absolutely should work on a directly competitive offering. 

Will Consumers Buy It?

Even if Apple does nothing to improve the user experience, Apple News+ offers a lot of content, browsing through it is fun, and you don't give up personal info/privacy to subscribe. $10 a month is a lot, but it should make sense for some people. A lower price would increase the service reach, but it is probably more valuable for Apple to establish perceived value at the $10/month price point before using Apple News+ as a sweetener for a larger discounted bundle.

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