Opinion: Apple News shows that Apple wants to bolster + profit from ads, not eliminate them

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Every year, a handful of clued-in pundits start floating “wouldn’t it be nice” Apple OS ideas just before the features actually show up in Apple’s products. Right before iOS 7 debuted a flattened design, at a point when few people even knew what skeuomorphism was, pundits began to ask, “boy, doesn’t skeuomorphism stink?” Then ahead of iOS 9, when people might have wondered what new marquee features were coming to Apple’s operating systems, pundits said, “hey, wouldn’t it be nice if Apple focused on iOS and OS X stability this year?” Recently, a new topic came up just before Apple debuted the beta version of News for iOS 9: “Web advertising really sucks — wouldn’t it be great if that all went away?”

Advertising is an easy target: it’s an eyesore, slows down web pages, and — in the wrong hands — compromises your privacy. But whether you accept it or hate it, advertising is also the reason you don’t have to pay for your news. As Ben Lovejoy noted last month, “without ad revenue, 9to5Mac wouldn’t exist; it’s that simple.” And he’s right: surveys suggest that the vast majority of people do not want to pay for the news they consume, and the few who do can’t pay enough to keep their favorite publications afloat for the long term. Ads keep publications alive.

Thanks to the introduction of ad-blocking technology in iOS 9, some people think Apple wants to help users get rid of ads. But that’s not Apple’s goal. Yesterday’s debut of Apple News shows that it’s actually angling to replace the ads you know, build upon them, and take a cut of their revenue…

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Viewed most positively, Apple’s two new iOS 9 advertising initiatives have the potential to alter the balance of online advertising. First, iOS 9 supports ad-blocking plug-ins that remove ads from web-based content viewed using Safari, the dominant iOS web browser. If enough users install these plug-ins, web pages will look “cleaner” and load faster, but Safari ad revenue will go down, ultimately hurting both publishers and the people who write for them.

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Not coincidentally, the ad-blockers are arriving simultaneously with iAd-sponsored Apple News. Apple is effectively forcing publishers who opt-in with Apple News to support Apple’s iAds solution, or lose revenue. If a publisher allows its feed to be read by Apple News users, its ads get stripped out, and the only option to replace them is to create new versions of pages in the Apple News Format, where Apple’s iAds appear, instead. Apple gets a 30% cut of ads it sells itself against the publisher’s content, or 0% if the publisher sells its own iAds. Should the publisher opt out of Apple News, it gets the worst deal: no Apple News views of their content, no revenue from iAds, and decreasing Safari revenue due to ad-blockers.

Everyone understands why readers would welcome big changes to web advertising. Top-of-page, right-of-page, pop-over, pop-under, beginning-of-video, between-video, and after-video ads are everywhere these days. It’s tempting to accept any opportunity to hide those ads and just get on with reading, watching, or listening to content… unless the solution involves actually paying directly for the content. If that’s the option, history suggests that most people will try to go elsewhere, returning only if and when the content becomes free again.

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But if you don’t like standard web advertising, you probably won’t like iAds, either. Just like other ads, they come in multiple types of banner formats, interstitial formats, and pre-roll Video formats, as shown above. The basic ones range from 200KB to 750KB a piece, with video ads (10 seconds to 30 seconds) requiring between 9 and 27MB of data. iAds can feature animation, redirection to web sites/product pages, galleries, and other features. They’re not simpler than traditional ads: Apple actually calls them “an expanded ad experience.”

Aren’t they “less creepy” than other ads, though? Well, last year, iAds began tracking user activities inside retail apps to serve targeted advertising. This March, there were reports that Apple was letting advertisers target iAds to specific users, using data such as phone numbers and email addresses. And iOS 9 will let marketers push offers based on your location or interests. All of these tracking features are balanced by Apple’s standard promises of privacy, anonymity, and opt-out options, but add them up: iAds let advertisers reach you based on who you are, where you are, what you’re doing, and what you like.

I’m not trying to suggest that advertising is a great thing, or that I like the status quo — to the contrary, I hate the floating ads, pop-overs, and video interruptions at least as much as you do. Having to watch an ad for a TV show or bug spray before YouTube videos is a pain. But there’s no escaping the fact that advertising, whether it’s banners, affiliate links, or site sponsorships, enables people to spend their time creating content for you to consume at no charge. If advertising disappears, you’re either going to pay directly for that content, or the content is going to go away. In light of the changes Apple is encouraging, it’s time to decide whether you’re willing to accept sponsorship along with your free news, or whether you’re willing to start paying its production costs directly. The alternative — letting publications wither on the vine, reducing competition and the availability of information — will ultimately be far worse than the other options.

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Comments

  1. chrisl84 - 8 years ago

    I have never been one to get upset over advertising. So if Apple wants to up there revenue through it, fine by me.

  2. friedmud1 - 8 years ago

    How does 9to5mac fee about Google Contributor? I’m signed up at $10 a month… And my usage statistics show that I’ve contributed A few dollars to 9to5mac so far (only been doing it for a couple of months)

    Are you guys actually seeing much income from that?

    BTW: if anyone wants a Google Contributor invite I have a few to give away.

    I’m personally if the persuasion that I like to pay for things I use… and that includes websites. Google Contributor gives me the option to do that without having hundreds (thousands?) of accounts with each separate website. BUT, I don’t know yet wether website operates really like it much…

  3. applegetridofsimandjack - 8 years ago

    Apple news sucks. Because it’s only available in like 3 countries.

  4. rogifan - 8 years ago

    I wonder how many people are actually going to use Apple News. Is it going to be presented to people during the iOS 9 install process?

    • TechSHIZZLE.com - 8 years ago

      I actually like Apple News. It’s clean and offers a lot of information.

      Plus it syncs through iCloud (if I want it to), so the same topics/sites/articles show up on both iPad and iPhone.

      • Ali Hamodi - 8 years ago

        Filpboard does that too.

  5. amazingrugs - 8 years ago

    Both good and bad advertising exist. There are ways to have ads that are not disruptive to the content the user is trying to read or view. I wouldn’t use an ad blocker if sites had more respect for their users. Sites that don’t act egregious with their ads (like this site) I enable and fully support.

  6. nemesisprime - 8 years ago

    Here is the thing, users wouldn’t have to go to such lengths, or any at all, if there was at least a little integrity in the advertising market, which means RESPECT for the people who are viewing your ads. I have no issue with ads on sites, I have them on mine and understand their place in a revenue stream. BUT the minute they start autoplaying videos, modally present content that you can’t click quickly out of, hijack scrolling, touching and other gestures to display ads (that require 5-10 additional upward swipes on EVERY PAGE), is the minute you get all ads on your site blocked from my browser

  7. Luis Alejandro Masanti - 8 years ago

    Maybe Apple can do a ‘next step’ with News.
    As far as I understand the article, publishers has the option to show the customer its own sold ads and/or iAds sold ads (with and without Apple’s gain).
    Why not add a new tier: From within News, users can ‘pay’ for the news, and you get an as-free edition. (Apple will get its 30% cut).
    It would be like iTunes Store was for music.

  8. TechSHIZZLE.com - 8 years ago

    It looks like the Content Blocker toggle in Settings has been removed in b3, FYI, unless it has been changed to only appear if there are blockers available to toggle on.

    • iSRS - 8 years ago

      You’re right. Search in Settings still shows it but it isn’t there

  9. Content has to be something worth the price and worth reading. Most of the content on websites has become sensationalistic hit pieces in which the content is a second class citizen to the headline. There is very little original content anymore, it’s regurgitated crap smeared over the Internet. It’s mostly biased editorial pieces that provide very little factual evidence or offer any kind of proof. IS that worth paying for? No. It’s merely dumbed-down prose not worth a second look or even a serious consideration. The advertising on most of these websites, which is in a chaotic scattershot of annoying placement, is a direct reflection of the content.

    If Apple is able to create a news aggregate that knows my tastes and interests and can present me with articles I may like to read AND also keep the advertising at a minimal and tasteful level, then there’s no reason for anyone to complain about it. This is even more true if they’re able to pull in more reputable publishers and content creators who are indifferent to the subject and more diligent in their fact checking.

  10. “All of these tracking features are balanced by Apple’s standard promises of privacy, anonymity, and opt-out options, but add them up: iAds let advertisers reach you based on who you are, where you are, what you’re doing, and what you like.”

    First of all, all of those features and access are OPT-IN, not opt-out. Second, several of them make use iBeacons, which is a service that not only requires the user to download the specific merchant’s app, but requires the user to grant access to location data to that app. And on top of that, Bluetooth has to be enabled.

  11. Paul Andrew Dixon - 8 years ago

    Personally i hate ads — but i see their purpose…

    Some website, like 9to5, don’t bombard you with ads — you have a few on the side that blend in with the style of the article… unlike other sites that have them plastered all down the side, many breaking up the article, and worse are the pop-ups.

    It would be the equivalent of walking down a regular shopping street and seeing each shop with their window displays and the occasional billboard — compared to a crazy shopping street with TVs blasting info at you, music roaring out of the shops, every shop bombarding you with flyers, people asking you for surveys…

    too much is distracting and puts people in a bad mood, and so they wont buy and others will just avoid the site — i do this with T3… i hate the amount of adverts they have (and also their poor articles) so i avoid them…

    As for Apps… some of us want an ad free apps and are willing to pay…

    What i don’t like are the game apps where many people do by the add-ons, upgrades, gems etc — but they still have random pop-ups that distract you from the game…i don’t mind the ones that give you the option to link facebook, add friends, watch a video to get free stuff BUT i don’t want a pop-up lasting 30secs for something i have no interest in (especially when i cannot skip)…

    Ads should be relevant to the game and/or person and not be over bearing!!!

  12. John Smith - 8 years ago

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again …

    I like Apple over android because the apple business model is (was?) I pay a premium price for hardware then get good privacy – not the google business model where I get services for ‘free’ but my personal information is used to leverage advertising income.

    Shame if Apple is going down hill on this.

  13. TBolt - 8 years ago

    Most people are non-technical, and they don’t even know what ad blockers are unless someone else installs it for them. I guess tech blogs are kind of screwed, though, because you serve the more tech-minded audience, who will of course have installed ad blockers and Tampermonkey.

    Idea: start a sister blog about knitting. People who knit don’t know what ad blockers are. hehe.

  14. Don Horne (@DonHorne) - 8 years ago

    I think most people would tolerate ads if they still remained as a side car to content. People naturally cried foul when ads started to become so obtrusive, interfering with our actions and the technology started to collect a massive database profile of our preferences and habits by companies that we know little about.

  15. Great article. The tides on ads are surely changing.

    The funny thing is that all these idiots will be praising Apple for “revolutionizing the advertising industry” in about 6 months. All of a sudden, ads that cover the page for 10 seconds will be good, and they’ll say that it’s because the content is “good”.

    Save and archive my comment now; I’ll bet any amount of money that this is what’s gonna happen.

  16. The ads have become so abusive, rude, intrusive, and costly [time and bandwidth] that Apple’s ad blocking and I suspect special ROE for iAds will be an enormous improvement. This represents an enormous improvement for both content providers as well as advertisers and for Apple most importantly its customers. Remember Apple users are not the product Apple sells versus Google and Facebook.

    In other words, this is a self inflicted wound by advertisers and this solution while restricting some freedom should dramatically reduce abuse.

    Finally, I do not think Apple is looking at iAds [or music, movies, books, magazines, & apps] as important profit stream, but rather as value added to Apple Ecosystem attracting and retaining customers who buy their hardware [where the real profit money is]. Yes the revenue stream can be significant but the profit is zero or near zero versus 30-40% on hardware. People confuse revenue required to pay expenses and invest in future with profit – so rather than following the money [revenue] follow the profit if you want to see Apple’s focus.