One thing you won’t hear much about at Apple’s media event next week: Its News app, a newsreader that will work something like Flipboard, that will be included in Apple’s upcoming iOS 9 software this fall.
That doesn’t mean Apple isn’t interested in getting the word out about the app, which it has been fixing up since debuting a rough-around-the-edges beta a few months ago. It has also signed up more publishers for the launch, which will likely be in the next few weeks. When it announced News at WWDC in June, Apple had 18 publishers on board; now it says it has more than 50.*
A few years ago, the News model — where publishers put full stories on Apple’s app and share some of the ad revenue those stories generate — might have been controversial. Now, the “distributed” model for digital media is conventional wisdom — see: Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and more — and the only question is how well News will work.
The hope, from both publishers and Apple, is that Apple’s giant installed base of iPhone and iPad users will naturally gravitate to the app, and then like the way the stuff reads within it.
“It’s not a hugely complicated application. What they bring to it is massive distribution, and they’re giving publishers the ability to present their brands, in a way that feels like those brands,” said Troy Young, who runs digital for Hearst, one of Apple’s initial launch partners. “We like it when we tell stories in ways that are true to our brands.”
Publishers are also happy about Apple’s terms, which allow them to keep 100 percent of the ad revenue for ads they sell on their own and 70 percent of the revenue for the backfill inventory that Apple will sell. Publishers will also get credit from Web auditor ComScore for the stories that users view, so they don’t need to worry about Apple cannibalizing their audience numbers.
“The business model is good,” said Conde Nast president Bob Sauerberg, whose company will offer up six titles when News launches: Vanity Fair, Wired, GQ, Epicurious, Teen Vogue and Conde Nast Traveler. Sauerberg says he has signed up four advertisers — Burberry, Ford, Campbell Soup and Reynolds — for the launch, via a sponsorship model — that is, they’ll pay Conde a flat fee, regardless of how many people view their stuff on the app.
News’ potential audience is one of the big question marks ahead of the launch. While newsreaders attracted a lot of attention from developers a few years ago, almost all of them have fizzled. The only one to get any scale is Flipboard, which has relied on an install deal with Samsung for much of its distribution.
And newsreaders that most people tend to prefer aren’t really newsreaders: Facebook, and to some extent Twitter and Snapchat, have become places to find and consume publishers’ content.
Meanwhile, publishers say, Apple’s reputation as a home-grown app maker has diminished in the past few years, due to high-profile missteps with apps like Maps and Apple Music. “Their track records for creating their own apps is mixed,” said a publisher who is participating in the launch. “I don’t think expectations are through the roof.”
Another thing publishers and Apple aren’t eager to talk about on the record is that while Apple is courting publishers for News, it is also scaring the bejesus out of them, since it is about to make ad-blocking software easy to use on its mobile Safari Web browser.
Ad blocking — made possible via a new feature in iOS 9 that will allow “content-blocking” apps to work — “is going to shake the foundations of the advertising industrial complex,” said one publisher. That’s one of the reasons some publishers say they’re eager to work with News, whose ads won’t be blocked.
Here’s an example of the way stories could appear on News, via a mockup from Conde Nast Traveler:
* Vox Media, which owns this website, will be a News publisher.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.