What media companies need to know about Apple’s News Partner Programme

By Robert Whitehead


Sydney, Australia


Apple’s new programme for news subscriptions effectively sets the subscription price benchmark for media at a 15% commission. It’s part of a flurry of activity from Apple as it pivots away from the classic Apple Tax of 30% for what it calls reader apps. Those groundbreaking developments are covered in a separate INMA article published today.

Here’s the detail about how the News Partner Programme will work for news media businesses that want to access the new rate. At the programme’s core is publishers signing up to contribute articles to the Apple News aggregation service. 

What is the Apple News Partner Programme 

Apple News is a free news aggregation app that has 125 million monthly active users. It is only offered in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia, where it comes pre-loaded on devices. It’s the most popular news app across those four countries.

Any publisher may submit articles, audio, and interactive items for inclusion in Apple News, which is a feed of major stories curated by an Apple team of human editors. 

The Apple News Partner Programme offers the newly discounted commission to participating publishers. The discounted rate is applied to any subscriptions sold from within the publisher’s own app as well as to those sold from within articles they submit to Apple News.   

How the subscriptions will work

Stories and clips are filed to Apple News Articles using a bespoke format. From those articles, a link will offer a regular subscription to that masthead. When a subscription is sold, it will be transacted by Apple for the new “discounted” fee (Apple’s term) for media apps of 15%. 

And if you do participate, this rate also automatically will be applied to all the subscriptions you sell from within your own masthead app on iOS.

If you are a publisher from outside those four countries and wish to maintain what is labelled a robust presence in Apple News, you too can file articles (via an RSS feed) so you could target people in those countries for subscriptions. (Think of the leading English-language titles in Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, India, or South Africa seeking expats in Apple’s main English-language markets to become subscribers).

The Apple News marketplace gives news publishers the opportunity to prospect for subscribers for a 15% finder's fee.
The Apple News marketplace gives news publishers the opportunity to prospect for subscribers for a 15% finder's fee.

The articles in the app are hosted by Apple. It shares usage data on its network with publishers if consumers have approved that in their privacy settings. If a subscription is sold, it will hand over the consumer’s ID to the media house in the event that all the privacy permissions are agreed in the terms and conditions. Presumably, a reader can choose to subscribe via Apple’s anonymised e-mail sign-in as well.

It’s worth noting that unlike most other news aggregators these days, Apple News doesn’t pay for content. A publisher can decide to use the Apple News marketplace of readers to go prospecting for subscribers just as long as it’s happy to pay Apple the 15% finder’s fee for each year they remain a subscriber. Their line appears something like this: Give us your stories for free to populate our app, and we’ll give you a cut price commission on any subscriptions you sell from within your masthead app or within Apple News. 

Meanwhile, if a publisher submits its feed in the Apple News bespoke format, the media house can also sell ads against each of their items and retain all of the ad revenue. Publishers in the past haven’t recorded much success with this. Nevertheless, this add-on is marketed in the new programme as a sweetener. The News Partner Programme is taking applications now. 

Apple News versus Apple News+

Apple has two different programmes in which publishers can participate. The second involves Apple News+, which is its premium feed of news and feature writing. The differences between Apple News and Apple News+ are important to understand in the commissions context.

The classic Apple News is a free aggregated news app. Within that app, there’s a tab called Apple News+.

Think of the latter as aiming to be the Netflix of journalism, drawing on limited article feeds from a large number of news and magazine publishing houses in one subscription deal (US$9.99 a month), which Apple itself sells. It keeps 50% of the subscription revenue and divides the balance among the participating media companies based on readership and contract terms.

When it was launched in May 2019, its hallmark signing was Condé Nast, which added both panache and depth to its consumer offer. More importantly, Apple News+ was the first big deal that a Big Tech company had signed to pay for content in an aggregation service. By doing this, it paved the way for later, much bigger deals that Facebook and Google have signed for their own premium news products, which they are now rolling out. 

Publishers do not need to be Apple News+ participants to sign up for the News Partner Programme on Apple News. They can do one or both. But they will need to be part of classic Apple News if they want to qualify for the discounted 15% rate on their in-app subscription sales as well.

Publisher feedback and expansion questions

INMA has spoken with publishers who have signed up for Apple News+ and aren’t authorised to comment publicly. It is an interesting, niche product for them, which they use for brand sampling of their best work, but commercially it has amounted to little.

Its revenue for each masthead is small, and any ability to generate ad revenue against their articles proved illusory. Its data sharing is described as limited. Yet in the wake of the subsequent much bigger Facebook and Google content payments, especially under Australia’s content law, there’s an expectation of much healthier revenue sharing come contract renewal time at Apple News+. 

Similar to its free sibling, Apple News+ is only available in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. Apple has announced no plans for its expansion. This puts it at odds with Apple’s grander plans for its other premium subscription-based services, such as Apple TV+ and Apple Fitness+, which continue their global growth march into new markets following Apple Music.

When Apple announced its News Partner Programme, its senior vice president of services, Eddy Cue, said providing customers “with access to trusted information from our publishing partners from day one has been our priority.” It is billed as a scheme to help publishers drive their all-important paywall strategies.

Yet if it is that important, it is unusual that Apple has left both Apple News and Apple News+ off its global playbook and that it remains stuck operationally in only four countries. 

As a habitual user, your blogger can attest Apple News+ is a classy offering. It’s an appealing buffet of great journalism. It will also let you subscribe directly to a masthead if you like what you’re reading. Or if you’re already a brand subscriber, you can log into it within Apple News+ so you get more of that content in one spot. This feature helps overcome the emerging problem of users not opening individual apps – even if one has paid handsomely for them – on their increasingly crowded phone screens.

About Robert Whitehead

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