June 9, 2015 Last Updated 10:13 am

Apple combines its developer programs; Newsstand killed off, but for the wrong reasons

Most common complaint about the Newsstand was that it was a folder, but not recognizing the many other problems with the scheme will mean new solutions may be no better

The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference continues today and licensed developers today received email notification that they have a new agreement to sign as Apple has combined its programs into one.

Apple-dev-email“We are excited to announce the new Apple Developer Program, which combines everything you need to develop, distribute, and manage your apps on all Apple platforms into one single program,” the email sent to developer stated. “Your developer program membership has been automatically updated to the new Apple Developer Program.”

Those who have been playing around with betas have probably already been prompted to sign a new agreement and actually won’t see anything if they click on the provided link, but others will simply have to “agree” to the new contract.

The move simplifies the process a bit, made a little more complicated now that Apple has introduced yet another variation of its operating system with the watchOS. Apple lists the following features of the new program:

  • Distribution of your apps to over a billion Apple customers around the world on the App Store for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.
  • More continuity capabilities for iOS and OS X, including app extensions 
and Handoff.
  • The latest beta releases of iOS, OS X, and watchOS announced today, so you can get started on your next app.

The news that the Newsstand would go away was met with near universal approval (actually I heard no one lament its passing). But I fear that Apple, and many media observers are making a terrible mistake in thinking why the Newsstand was a failure for publishers.

Newsstand-screenThe one objection most often cited was that the Newsstand hid newspapers and magazines within a device, leading to readers “forgetting” about digital publication. It is if merely deleting the Newsstand folder will solve the problem. It won’t, the problem is far more complicated that a mere folder.

Publishers intimately involved in their digital editions have far more complaints about how Apple’s program works than simply that their apps are stuck inside a folder. Here is a short list, and I bet many of you could add to it:

  • Data is not shared with publishers: who exactly is buying their digital editions? Apple knows, but won’t tell publishers without the reader approving, and the mechanism that encourages data sharing is clunky. Part of the blame lies with publishers who simply have their apps open to the data sharing question, then never again encourage their readers to communicate with them, or change that setting.
  • Renewals are great, but every month (if the reader is a monthly subscriber) Apple sends out notices reminding readers that they can cancel their subscriptions if they want. One can understand Apple’s position here, but the practice of first allowing monthly subscriptions, then allowing easy cancelations has had a devastingly effect on digital edition sales. Again, publishers are partially to blame in even offering such short-term subscriptions, but I’m sure most didn’t realize how Apple would handle them.
  • Newsstand-iPhone-catsA mess, the Newsstand was a mess as the App Store team stopped maintaining the 28 individual categories. For over a year and half Apple simply let the categories alone, creating a ghetto within the App Store itself and I, and many publishers found shocking. In fact, in discussions with developer support staff, Apple employees themselves were shocked to learn that a portion of the App Store was being abandoned. This action, or lack of action, allowed some developers to start to game the system by naming their new digital publications with odd names like “AA Automotive” or “A Beautiful Wedding” that placed their app on the front page of the category because Apple was no longer sorting the “New” area by release date but simply listing apps in alphabetical order. Some of these bogus apps shot to the top of the bestseller list after months of sitting on the front page of the Newsstand categories.
  • Advertising solutions were sorely lacking inside the Newsstand. Apple has its own iAd program, which it says will now be implemented as part of the News app to be launched with iOS 9, but if Apple missed a huge opportunity to jump start iAd by creating its own ad network for digital editions. It would have been simple because the specs would be simple to understand, and the idea that publishers could monetize their digital editions through an ad network would have encouraged many publishers to not think only of PDF replicas.
  • The replica is often blamed on publishers, but the biggest promoters of replica are digital publishing platforms who promote the PDF edition as cheap and easy to produce, and… Apple. Apple wanted all thsoe brands inside its App Store, then inside the Newsstand. And while Apple may be seen as encouraging interactive media, it never launched its own platform to accomplish this. To encourage interactive textbooks it launched iBooks Author, but nothing for newspaper and magazine publishers (they probably see the just announced News Format as their first effort in this regard). But Apple has the attention span of a gnat and it soon eliminated its own are of the iBooks Store that promoted eBooks built using iBooks Author, but publishers embaraced iBA and continue to produce eBooks with it. What would have happened if Apple had launched its own digital publishing platform?

We could go on, but I’m sure you have your own reasons to have hated the Newsstand. I personally think that it wasn’t a complete lost cause. If the Newsstand in digital form is a bad idea, then so is every other digital newsstand. Publishers who include their digital editions inside Next Issue, or Zinio, or Magzter, still will have their publications stuck inside another app.

What made the Newsstand great, if you listen to the sales pitches of many digital publishing platforms, is that anyone could create their own digital publications. While it is true that anyone will be able to contribute their content to the News app, the app will be more like a blogging environment than a place where an editor can piece together an entire branded product.

And that, in the end, is the big issue here: is there a future for the magazine and newspaper in digital form? Or will readers only be interested in reading stories one at a time, branded by the company that provides the wrapper. It is the difference between the LP and the single, Pandora and Spotify, if you will. There is room for both today, but will there be tomorrow? I say absolutely yes, because I don’t see the editors of The Atlantic, the NYT, DownBeat deciding that readers will only want their stories in the future as individual pieces rather than part of a collection of like material.

The future of the magazine, newspaper and book publishing platforms is unknown, but there is a future. Apple will likely be part of that future in some form, but its failure with the Newsstand is not the end of branded digital publications (or do you think it is?).

  • Tablazines 3 years ago

    I’m missing the part that explains what happens to those magazines there were in the newsstand? Is it even worth producing digital editions now?

    • D.B. Hebbard 3 years ago

      Officially, we’ve heard nothing yet. But those who have apparently spoken to Apple believe that all Newsstand app will become stand-alone once iOS 9 is released in September.

      Will publishers have to update their apps? Some think so, but I’m not so sure. Wouldn’t it be possible for Apple to build into iOS 9 a function that recognizes Newsstand apps and makes they stand-alone without intervention from developers?

      But we don’t know for sure because Apple continues to communicate exclusively with a select few media outlets and a select few developers. This is a major disservice to those of us holding developer accounts who are used to Apple telling us what what the road map is for future development.