Following the announcement of Apple News Plus subscription service, media firms are once again weighing the promises of tech platforms’ high-reach albeit mediated relationships with readers against direct traffic.

Its offer is extremely compelling: for $9.99 in the US and $12.99 in Canada users can enjoy articles from more than 300 premium titles including Conde Nast’s The New Yorker, WIRED, Vogue, as well as Time, The Atlantic, and People. Newspapers include the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal – for which a digital subscription costs $39.

A handful of publishers are notably absent, among them the New York Times and the Washington Post, both of whom have worked hard to grow their own subscription bases.

The new service is quite different from its predecessor. Though Plus exists in the same Apple News app that comes pre-loaded on iPhones, iPads and post-2018 Macs, it will be available only in the US and Canada to begin with. The underlying technology, and some of the content deals, are based on a service called Texture, which Apple acquired a year ago. In the 48 hours of the service going live, more than 200,000 users subscribed, more than Texture had at its peak, the New York Times reported.

The risk of cannibalising individual publications’ subscription efforts are high, but the offer from Apple’s side is exposure to as many as one billion Apple device users.

There is a significant price that publishers will pay for reach. Notably, Apple will not share customer data with publishers, though participants will be able to see what is being read and will have the opportunity to target regular readers with newsletter offers, the WSJ’s chief marketing officer, Suzi Watford said.

Then there’s the money question: Apple will take 50% of the subscription value and will split the rest among the publications based on the amount of time readers spend with the content, similar to the Apple Music streaming service.

The Journal’s involvement offers an interesting case study on the balance that publishers will have to strike. It will, for instance, add 50 staff members to its newsroom off the back of the deal – though its union notes that the job listings are open to unprotected contract workers on a 12 month contract: a hint that the organisation is still assessing the benefits of the deal. It will limit the archive of content available on Plus to just three days and will reserve niche pages like the marketing-focussed CMO Today for full subscribers. Rupert Murdoch is said to have been the driving force behind the deal, in an effort to broaden the WSJ’s appeal beyond its core professional audience.

News organisations are understandably hesitant to jump back in with big tech platforms, considering the way in which the duopoly of Google and Facebook have swallowed ad dollars from other internet publishers. According to WARC’s latest Global Ad Trends report, this concentrated growth has led to a decline in the amount of money available to other publishers.

Apple is the first of the big tech players to move into news with an offer to publishers that involves revenue sharing on subscriptions. This week, however, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg floated the idea of a premium news tab during a discussion with Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer, Europe’s largest publisher (the video is quite long, but they begin talking about news from this point). But in the discussion he made clear that Facebook would be coming at this question from a different direction to other firms looking to maximise revenue, “that’s not necessarily the way we’re thinking about this.” Publishers are, however, aware that Facebook has changed course on news several times – it has proved complex territory for the platform, but it is the publishers who have been burned.

Sourced from Apple, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, WARC, Facebook