Safari Redirects Apple News+ Traffic Away From Publisher Websites To Its Own App

Written by Dana Sanchez

Publishers are furious with Apple after it made operating-system changes with no notice that redirect traffic to itself while limiting publishers’ ability to convert readers into subscribers.

Apple News+ subscribers browsing the web using the Safari browser are being redirected to the app, rather than the participating publisher’s website. This came as a shock to publishers. Image: New Apple iPhone 7, Maurizio Pesce / Flickr

The most recent versions of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS, and MacOS Big Sur — its desktop operating system — force Apple News+ customers to use it more.

Apple News+ subscribers browsing the web using Apple’s Safari browser are being redirected to the Apple News+ app, rather than the participating publisher’s website, Digiday reported.

The move came as a shock to publishers who weren’t informed of the change, AdAge reported.

The new feature could result in a significant traffic reduction for publishers, lost revenue from ad and direct subscription sales, and skewed metrics. Apple claims the change will give publishers “increased engagement and revenue opportunities,” Ad Age reported. However, publishers say any revenue generated through Apple’s ads is minuscule.

“Woah, I wonder how many publishers in Apple News+ realize that the new iOS14 and MacOS Big Sur are by default intercepting traffic to their sites and sending it to the Apple News app instead,” Tony Haile tweeted on Monday. Haile is the CEO of Screenshots Scroll. “This directly cannibalizes a publishers’ core subscription audience.”

Haile called out what he saw as hypocritical behavior.

“Apple has been touting privacy as its core attribute, particularly blocking cross-site tracking. In this case, not only is Apple engaging in cross-site tracking, but is doing so as a default opt-in buried in the settings,” he tweeted.

Apple News+ subscribers can turn this feature off, Digiday reported. Its set to “on” by default, “and in the grand scheme of things, the change likely affects just a handful of users.”

Apple has struggled to gain new subscribers to ‌Apple News‌+, while also dealing with unhappy publishers because of its low subscription rates, according to Macrumors.

Apple does not tell publishers how many subscribers it has, Digiday reported. It announced that 200,000 subscribers had signed up in Apple News+’s first two days of operation on March 25, 2019. CNBC reported in November 2019 that Apple was having trouble attracting subscribers. 

The New York Times and The Washington Post have refused to participate in ‌Apple News‌+, as have many other news sites, Macrumors reported. The New York Times recently ended its Apple News partnership and pulled all articles from the service, saying ‌Apple News‌ does not “align with its strategy of building direct relationships with paying readers.”

The operating system changes came at a time when some publishers were seeing improved reader revenue from Apple News+, four sources told Digiday.

It is unclear whether that spike is the result of Apple adding subscribers or subscribers consuming more content. Apple distributes 50 percent of Apple News+’s subscriber revenue to publishers based on subscribers’ dwell time on content in the app and keeps the remaining 50 percent for itself, Digiday reported.

Data from Apple News’ ad-supported side suggests more consumption may be responsible. Several sources said they saw record views from Apple News in the spring, much like the record-breaking traffic their own sites got when the coronavirus pandemic started.

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But Apple’s issues with monetization persist. Two sources told Digiday that the effective CPMs on Apple News ads have fallen close to 20 percent since the fourth quarter of 2019, and the fill rates — which have been described as “atrocious” in the past — have never climbed above 50 percent at any point this year, one source said.

The operating system changes are a reminder that, even if revenue from Apple News begins to improve, publishers should regard Apple with the same suspicion they regard other platforms such as Google and Amazon, which tie their services and products together in ways that are anti-competitive, Max Willens and Lucinda Southern reported for Digiday.

Apple News‌+ readers on ‌iOS 14‌ can open the News section of the Settings app to disable “Open Web Links in News.” MacOS Big Sur users can get to the toggle by opening the News app and then going to the settings section.

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