Time to prepare those Apple Newsstand apps for the possible closing of the Newsstand store
With the Newsstand becoming a standard folder, the Newsstand store may go away, too – leaving publishers scrambling to stand out in already crowded app categories
The Newsstand will soon become the Newsstand folder when iOS 9 is released, but what is to happen to the Newsstand store? Likely a few of the major media companies working with Apple on their new News app know the answer to this but are not telling the rest of the media world. (So much of looking out for your colleagues, guys.)
With the release of the public beta of iOS 9 (and beta 3 for developers) one can see what the Newsstand will become: merely another folder on one’s device. Apps that previously were trapped inside the Newsstand can now be dragged out by readers, should they choose (and you can also add other apps into the Newsstand folder, as well). Those issue covers, which I always felt was a nice feature of the Newsstand, will go away and developers will have to make sure that their icons (which previously were only seen inside iTunes) are what they want them to be.
We really don’t know if the Newsstand store itself is going away, but it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to keep it if it cannot be accessed through the Newsstand folder. For many publishers who have seen their digital editions sales fall over the past two years, this may not seem like much of a loss, but it is not as if they are gaining anything, either.
The Apple App Store team have been sleeping at their desks these past two years, failing to maintain the Newsstand categories. The categories look the same today as they did this time last year, with the top carousel empty, and the “New” section broken (displaying apps in alphabetical order).
Many have blamed their falling sales on the poor discoverability of the Newsstand, made worse by Apple’s decision to let their store go to seed. But at least a couple of people in the industry have told me that they saw things start to decline almost from the instant the Newsstand was introduced. Was this fault of the Newsstand itself? I’m not so sure. If it is essentially just a folder – albeit, one an app can’t escape from – then why should it suppress sales more than other folders?
My own view is that the causes of declining sales is more complicated than that. To me there is the issue of renewal notices send by Apple (sent monthly to those who have signed up for the low-cost monthly subscription option), app bugs that often make apps fail to function for weeks on end, fulfillment issues that cause issues to not download, and the fact that most publishers still are not sold on digital publishing and so simply send readers hard-to-read PDF replicas that require pinch-to-zoom.
If the Newsstand store does cease to exist apps will find themselves dependent on the App Store like other apps such as games. This isn’t actually anything new. Magazine and newspaper apps have always been seen inside the App Store generally, but also inside the Newsstand store.
If you look today at the Travel category of the App Store you will see that the Apple App Store promotes travel magazines. But only 13 titles are being promoted and the existing App Store search mechanism does not allow for filtering of results – one cannot, for instance, say you want Travel apps, then ask for magazines. In short, it’s not really the Newsstand that is broken, but the App Store itself.
One would think that Apple would spend more resources figuring out what is wrong with their iTunes store, after all, they are seeing declining downloads in other areas, as well. Music downloads, for instance, are also falling. But Apple never sees their failures as something they are responsible for but a function of a changing market. They are confronting declining music downloads with the introduction of Apple Music, and declining Newsstand sales with their new News app.
We’ll learn more about the value of the new News app once Apple makes its new Apple News Format available for all News publishers to use (it is currently only available to a select few media outlets). But between now and then, there is still a lot a digital publisher can do to make sure their Newsstand apps are ready for the release of iOS 9:
- Redesign app icon
- Rewrite app description
- Rethink their push notifications
- Avoid multiple app issues if you already have a stand-alone app
- Rethink pricing and subscription frequency policies
iOS 9 is likely to be released in mid-September, hopefully Apple will provide more guidance to publishers about what to expect. This would be, as I have said many times before, why Apple needs a publisher liaison person, to help answer questions for publishers who have unique issues compared to other app developers.