Vanity Fair: How Apple tried to woo the WashPo and NYTimes

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“We’ll make you the most-read newspaper in the world.” — Eddy Cue’s elevator pitch.


From Vanity Fair: “ARE WE AT A PARTY, OR A WAKE?” posted Monday on Apple News+.

That more or less sums up the schizophrenic reactions to the launch of Apple News+, which is the latest—and arguably the most consequential—entrant in a series of newfangled platform-publisher experiments ranging from Facebook Instant Articles, to Snapchat Discover, to Google Amp. On the one hand, publications throughout the industry have either moved, or are moving, toward revenue models in which people pay them directly for what they’re reading online. Apple’s new venture can give publications like these the opportunity to reach millions of Apple consumers who might not already be subscribing to their content…

On the other hand, by getting on board with Apple News+, you run the risk of abdicating your direct relationship with readers and potentially cannibalizing your existing subscriber pool, thereby handing more leverage to an ever-more-powerful platform economy that has already wreaked havoc on journalism and the news business…  In a searing takedown of Apple News+ published by one of its own partner publications, TechCrunch, Josh Constine argued that “publishers are crazy to jump into bed with Apple News+…  Publishers hope they’ll get exposure to new audiences. But any potential new or existing direct subscriber to a publisher will no longer be willing to pay a healthy monthly fee to occasionally access that top content while supporting the rest of the newsroom. They’ll just cherry pick what they want via News+, and Apple will shave off a few cents for the publisher while owning all the data, customer relationship and power.”

That would appear to be the primary concern of the two major News+ holdouts: The New York Times and The Washington Post. Apple badly wanted to lock down at least one of them, and it began a vigorous courtship of the papers last spring, not long after the Texture deal closed and Apple’s plans for its content bundle were beginning to materialize, according to people familiar with the matter. “They put a tremendous amount of pressure on,” one source said. “Eddy Cue was in and out of their offices really trying to woo them.” Cue’s elevator pitch, according to people familiar with the discussions, was, “We’ll make you the most-read newspaper in the world.”

My take: No print publication—not even the Times and Post—is negotiating from a position of strength.