Sports news outlet The Athletic has joined Apple News+, the tech giant’s paid-for subscription service, three years after now-parent company The New York Times walked away from the free version of the app.
Apple’s senior vice president of services Eddy Cue, who oversees Apple News, told Press Gazette the service has “started really going after sports in the last two years”.
Cue added that Apple sees it as “incredibly important” to society for news organisations to flourish financially, which is why it wants to share revenue.
Apple News is the UK’s most popular news app with a monthly audience of around 13.5 million, ahead of BBC News on 12 million and Sky News on 3 million.
Apple News is free, but the Apple News+ subscription product carries more content from member publishers, in particular magazines.
Publishers on the basic Apple News platform receive a share of the ad revenue generated and may sell subscriptions through the app, while members to the paid-for product receive a share of subscriptions based on their readership.
The Athletic joins Apple News
The Athletic’s now-parent organisation, The New York Times, pulled out of Apple News in 2020, saying it wanted to keep more of its audiences on its own platforms.
The New York Times Company bought The Athletic in 2022 and earlier this year the NYT closed its own sports desk, giving the younger brand responsibility for the paper’s sport coverage.
Asked what prompted The Athletic to partner with Apple News, the sports outlet’s publisher David Perpich told Press Gazette he could not speak to decisions made before the acquisition.
But he said that at some point communications between himself and Cue at Apple “just gained momentum and [we] realised that, at least on our end… Apple News provided a unique platform to reach many more people than we otherwise could, and so that’s why we’re excited to do this”.
Apple News is the most-used news app in the four territories in which it is available (the UK, US, Canada and Australia). The Athletic had some 4.2 million subscribers in the third quarter of 2023 (including subscribers to the NYT-wide bundle subscription), an 80% year-on-year increase.
Another NYT product, review service Wirecutter, will also be made available to all Apple News users as part of the partnership.
From Apple’s perspective, Cue said the service has so far provided relatively little sports content.
“We started really going after sports in the last two years with favourite teams [features] and other things. So I think the timing of it is actually just perfect, because they’ve now built up, obviously, a global and local presence – and we’ve built all these sports components on Apple News.”
The New York Times has not rejoined Apple News, but earlier this year The Guardian – which left the platform in 2017 – did make a return to the app.
Press Gazette reported at the time that the decision was driven by new features allowing The Guardian to solicit donations and sell subscriptions through Apple News. Because The Guardian is available in all four Apple News countries, it also qualified for a 15% commission rate on subscriptions made through the app, lower than the 30% Apple charges to titles based in only one of the nations.
Asked if changes to commission rates had been involved in the Athletic partnership, Cue said: “Nothing’s really changed – from the very beginning of when we started, [commission rates] get paid and allocated based on readership and what people are doing on the site and we share the revenue.”
He did note that the price of an Apple News+ subscription recently rose to $12.99/£12.99 from $9.99/£9.99, “so by default we share more now”.
But he said: “We’ve always wanted to build a product that [can be] monetise[d] for news providers. We think it’s incredibly important for society to have successful news entities out there, and so one of our main objectives in this when we got started was to get people to pay and to be able to share a lot of that revenue with the news providers.”
Cue was speaking amid a strained moment in the relationship between the news industry and large tech companies, with both sides engaged in international lobbying over legislation that could compel or has compelled platforms like Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news content.
Asked about Apple’s own relationship with the news, and whether it was concerned it might be caught up in the legislative wranging, Cue said:
“Everyone that participates in Apple News does that through an agreement and willingly – they want to be on Apple News.
“So we’re not trying to take anybody’s news or anything like that – we think it’s to their benefit, to readers’ benefits and obviously to Apple’s benefit for them to be there.”
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