May 6, 2014 Last Updated 4:51 pm

Is it time for Apple to retire the newsstand? Probably not, better to retire the people managing it

Jason Snell of Macworld would like to see the app** go away, but the Newsstand is not beyond hope… just yet

The voices of those calling for Apple to get rid of the Newsstand app are growing a wee bit louder, as Apple lets its publications app go to seed.

Jason Snell of Macworld thinks its time to make the app go away. Snell recaps the features introduced with the Newsstand, launched in November of 2011: automatic issue downloads; issue cover icons; and the simple fact that a user can find their favorite digital publications in one place.

Newsstand-iPad-lgBut Snell also recounts some of the negatives: once in the Newsstand, an app must stay there, leaving means killing off one app and launching another, stand-alone app; and the app doesn’t act like other folders where one can simply tap the screen to exit (because it is really an app, not a folder).

“We should all get our first glimpse at iOS 8 in early June at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Though Apple introduces big new features with every major iOS release, my guess is that this release will be largely focused on tweaking and improving many of the features introduced in iOS 7. But I think it’d be a dandy time to remove Newsstand,” Snell concludes.

But none of these objections really get to what bugs publishers about the Newsstand: its management. It’s really Apple’s management, or lack of management, of the App Store, in general, that is the biggest complaint: search is awful; Newsstand categories aren’t managed so that the “New” feature is updated or that the top carousel contains featured publications; bogus apps are allowed to be launched that offer annual subscriptions but never see a second issue; and Russian developers seem immune to the no-porn rules.

These are big drawbacks, but I’m not sure any of them have to do with the Newsstand app itself. Launching a stand-alone app into the Apple App Store doesn’t solve the discoverability problem or the fact that your new lifestyle magazine may appear right next to the latest Russian porn title. No, the issue is Apple’s lack of online retail store expertise. The company that invented the app store is suddenly pretty awful at managing it.

It has been long rumored that the iTunes store would get a makeover. That rumor was pretty hot a year ago, but has been pretty cold as of late. An iTunes redesign would probably launch in the fall, if it happens at all, in line with the release of iOS 8. A relaunch of iTunes would naturally come with new search capabilities (otherwise, why bother) and hopefully a new design that is easier for the App Store team to maintain.

NewsstandStore-iPad-lg

As I’ve written before, I believe Apple has let the Newsstand go unattended due to priorities: as important as the feature is to publishers, the sales involved simply represent a drop in the bucket to Apple. For some perspective, understand that if Apple were to add 100 percent of the revenue the ABM claims U.S. B2B publishers made on print advertising last year (slightly less than $7 billion), it would only add 6.5 percent sales growth to the company. So how much does all those digital publication downloads represent to Apple? Not much.

But it means the world to publishers. Which is why the failure of the major publisher trade associations to make this a big issue with their members is so disappointing to see. If the future of publishing is digital, than the health of the digital newsstands surely is a major issue.

I think the solution is nationalizing the Newsstand. OK, I’m only slightly kidding. I don’t expect to see President Obama rescue the Newsstand the way he did a couple of the automakers. But I do think that having Apple partner with a third party could help the situation. The third party would be a new entity co-managed by Apple and representatives of the industry – and the industry should put up money to run it. Its’s that important.

It won’t happen, not in a million years. But having someone who actually cares about the products inside the Newsstand helping manage the effort is the only way publishers will have a good retail environment in which to sell their digital editions. The other options would be for Apple to hire an industry veteran to act as a liaison and the industry’s representative inside the company (I’ve volunteered for this job before!); or for publishers to give up on the Newsstand and concentrate on improving Amazon.com and Google Play – two stores that are only somewhat better sales environments.

It’s not too late for the Apple Newsstand, though I understand the feelings of tech and media writers who would like to see the Newsstand app go away. I just don’t see that eliminating the app gets rid of the basic problem: Apple is not providing a good retail environment for publishers of magazines and newspapers.

** Update: Jason Snell takes exception that I called the Newsstand “an app”. Of course, the Newsstand is not an app, but iOS users see it as such because there it is when they first turn on their device, just like those other “apps”. Oh, and he refers to it this way, as well. No matter, it’s shorthand. But, more importantly, he completely disagrees my position concerning the Newsstand. Not surprising, I disagree with his position, as well.

  • Jeff B 3 years ago

    Newsstand: it’s really NOT an app. Trust me.

    And in iOS 7 there’s a more general purpose background downloading mechanism than the Newsstand APIs, and they’re system tunable to save energy.