Until recently, digital-first news sites were considered to be the future of publishing. Investors poured money into Buzzfeed, Vice and Vox, hopeful their pay-per-click business model could finally make online journalism turn a profit.
But last week, that idea was shattered when Buzzfeed announced drastic lay-offs, reducing its staff by 15% - around 250 jobs. The lossmaking company is not alone in its financial troubles. Verizon’s media unit - that includes HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo - also announced in January it would let go roughly 800 people.
“Winter clearly is here for digital news operations,” former NYTimes editor Jill Abramson told Recode. And as the digital media bubble continues to burst, the industry looks to alternative models to make digital news sustainable.
In the same week Buzzfeed announced layoffs, Apple released its first beta of iOS 12.2 for developers, with tech website 9to5mac.com noticing that the new operating system included a magazine subscriptions service.
Since Apple’s bought magazine app Texture in March 2018, rumours have been circulating that the company is poised to launch its own digital news service. Apple is expected to integrate Texture into its own platform, that could be called “Apple News Magazines”, according to iOS 2.2.
Texture currently offers a Spotify-style subscription model, charging $9.99 (£7.62) a month in exchange for unlimited digital access to more than 200 magazines, including The New Yorker, People, Time, and GQ.
Right now, the app - which is only available to users in the US, not the UK - lets users read the magazines in their original, analogue layout. However there has been speculation that Apple wants to reformat articles to look more like online content - offering a better experience to readers but less control to publishers.
Bloomberg recently reported that Apple is trying to encourage the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal to join its news app. However, publishers are concerned that a Texture-style subscription service would undercut newspaper subscriptions, offering a cheaper price for a wider variety of content.
It would also deprive media outlets of a direct relationship with their readers.
But Apple will be hoping to replicate the success of its Music subscription app, Apple Music, which has 50 million subscribers.
Apple steps into digital publishing, just as Facebook steps back. The social media platform announced last January that tweaks to its algorithm would prioritise updates from friends and family over brands and media outlets.