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Publishers laud Apple News' human touch, wary about monetization prospects

As Apple attempts to woo major publishers to its Apple News platform, the outlets — many anonymously — chimed in on the effort, saying human-driven article curation and a massive iOS device install base is winning over some converts. At least for now.

Speaking with Digiday, publishing executives gave points to Apple for its approach to content curation. Like Apple Music, Apple News relies on human curation in the form of an editorial team tasked with policing content quality.

"They're attentive, and you have the sense they're human beings that are trying to nurture a relationship of some kind," said a publishing executive who is in regular contact with Apple.

Apple News is in many ways the antithesis of Facebook, which is experiencing a media exodus of sorts due to recent troubles over the 2016 elections and a rejiggering of user news feeds designed to quell criticism over conspiracy theories run rampant.

According to the report, certain top-tier news organizations are in constant conversation with Apple's editorial team. One such outlet, CNN Digital, is in touch with Apple on a daily basis. S. Mitra Kalita, SVP of news, opinion and programming at CNN Digital, says the availability enables the channel to reach a diverse audience.

"This is very much a human interaction," Kalita said.

She pointed out, however, that monetization options lag behind the competition. Other publishers seemingly agree. New York Post chief digital officer Remy Stern at the Digiday Publishing Summit last week said his publication makes "hundreds" in revenue despite catering to an audience that numbers in the "millions."

Advertising is typically the main source of revenue for online publications, and Apple's cloistered platform only recently began allowing publishers to serve Google DoubleClick ads. One anonymous publication is looking to make "a few hundred thousand" dollars this year through Apple News, while the New York Post estimates it brought in only $600 in six months.

Apple is supposedly pushing for publishers to adopt subscription models, a tactic the company is also applying to apps sold in the App Store. How Apple intends to set its strategy apart from the crowd is unclear, and the company has shared little on the matter with publishing partners.

"They're very condescending in their approach," one anonymous source said. "It's, 'We're doing this and we'll tell you when we figure it out.'"

Further, Apple currently takes its customary 30-percent cut of all subscription sales, a larger chunk than Facebook and Google.

That could all change if and when the tech giant rolls out a widely rumored paid service for news and magazines — and potentially video and music content — next year. For now, however, most publishers appear willing to tough it out in hopes that Apple News becomes a key facet in Apple's booming services business.