Following the launch of Apple News in the UK and headline-grabbing developments from Google, Facebook and others, we brought together leading UK publishers and industry experts for a third roundtable discussion.

This session extended its previous focus on Apple News to include updates on Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project, the phenomenal rise of Snapchat Discover, and breaking news from Facebook as the release of Notify was announced (which has now gone live to US iOS users).

Sean Briggs, an Independent Publishing Consultant at Creative Workflows opened the session with an overview of Apple News and how the situation has progressed following its release. He noted that there was very little buzz surrounding it, and that Apple had so far not drawn attention to its installation on all iOS9 devices in the US and UK.

Information about Apple News Format is still relatively scarce, although the documentation has been released to developers in the past few weeks.

Sean pointed to a poll in MacWorld which is asking user’s opinion of Apple News. For the most part, the reception has been good, with 54% of users selecting positive statements to best describe their experiences.

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Esther Kezia from Page Lizard then explained the latest from Facebook’s Instant Articles, which has now been released to the Facebook iPhone app in the US. Content is currently only available to a select group of publishers, but Facebook are making steps towards opening Instant Articles to a wider audience following a ‘positive response’ from users.

Esther reinforced that Facebook should be carefully considered as a tool by publishers, particularly as its referrals to publishing sites have now once again overtaken referrals from Google.

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Just a few days before the Tech Talk, Facebook announced that it was launching a direct challenger to Apple News with Notify (read more here). As with Instant Articles, Esther brought together the facts about Notify and how it would work going forwards. However, Facebook’s venture into similar territory last year with ‘Paper’ was unsuccessful, and this had to be borne in mind.

Sean then presented a case study for Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages project which shows that mobile pages which are just one second faster experience up to 27% increase in conversion rates. Brian and Alex from Bright Sites gave us the demo link for AMP (see it at g.co/ampdemo) which really reinforced what a powerful tool this could be – articles load without even a blink in the screen. At the moment, AMP articles load in a hierachy – the content is there first followed by pictures, and ads load later (sometimes a good 10 seconds later).

The most notable difference between the three tech giants’ approach is that Google’s AMP project is all open source. The content, specifications and files can all be found on GitHub, and they are encouraging publishers to get involved and feed back, as well as retain control of their ad inventory.

Tom Beckenham from Specle gave a talk from the advertising perspective. He pointed out that, for now, publishers are better going directly to Apple for ads as they’ve got dedicated teams. “It’s early days…save the internal resourcing and let Apple do the selling” he advised.

Tom argued that the whole way we think about content has changed drastically over the past year, so looking forward can be difficult. This sparked a lively debate around the table, inevitably bringing up the challenge of monetisation.

“There are two huge challenges publishers have had to face in all this,” said Sean. “One is looking at the value of editorial content. The content publishers put on websites is not their best, so why are they expecting to drive subscribers through it?

“The second challenge is monetisation. How can you sell your content to an audience that don’t value content any more?”

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Some debated that if Facebook and Apple have superior click-through rates, then why not let them have the content? “The world is extremely fickle – users will be on something one day and something else the next” one attendee observed.

It was also acknowledged that platforms are attractive to publishers as they keep up and can drive the changes in technology and content consumption. “Is there any point fighting the tide?” and “If we’re not there, someone else will be” were common views being aired.

There were also concerns that much of the innovation is being driven in the USA, and the UK is getting it ‘second hand’. Both Facebook and Apple have released to the US first, and it can be months later before there’s a hint of a UK release. Apple News is confined to just the US and UK at the moment – could this exclusivity be damaging?

But despite worries and uncertainties, there was general agreement that, for the most part, there isn’t much to lose by experimenting with these (free) platforms.


Page Lizard will be running another Tech Talk in the New Year to discuss further updates to social and media channels. To be kept up to date, email us and we’ll drop you a line when the date of the next one is confirmed.

Full notes from the discussions will be released shortly at bit.ly/applenewsppa

We’re also in Apple News! Search ‘Page Lizard’ to follow our digital publishing blog.

 

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