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Apple News monetization – or lack of same – is still a huge problem, say large publishers, who describe the situation as ‘abysmal’ and ‘atrocious.’

We heard back in September that while traffic was growing, ad sales weren’t generating meaningful revenue for publishers. Indeed, we saw one stark example back then …

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Slate makes roughly the same amount of money from a single article that gets 50,000 page views on its site than it does from the 6 million page views it receives on Apple News in an average month.

Media and marketing site Digiday has spoken with seven publishers, who suggest this is a widespread issue.

Last year, Apple News brimmed with promise for publishers, offering an engaged, high-quality audience that seemed to do nothing but grow. Ad revenue wasn’t great, but at the start of 2018, most publishers assumed that would come around.

One year later, most publishers are still waiting. Monetization on Apple News remains a slog, according to seven publishers interviewed by Digiday […] One source said their publication earned “low five-figures” every month from Apple News; another said they earned less than $1,000 per month.

Publishers said there were three problems with Apple News monetization.

First, Apple’s privacy focus means they can’t take advantage of the most profitable form of advertising: highly targeted ads.

Second, Apple also prohibits the use of something known as ‘programmatic advertising’ – when ads are sold by software rather than human beings. This also rules out real-time bidding, when ads sold to the highest bidder in automated auctions.

Third, while Apple claims that it will sell any unsold ad slots, it has a terrible track-record for achieving this, leaving anywhere from 75% to 85% of slots unsold.

The problem, those sources added, was that little of their leftover ad inventory was being filled. One publisher source said that until the beginning of 2019, the fill rate on their remnant Apple News inventory was less than 20 percent. This source said it was such an “atrociously low” number that it made publishing on Apple News less lucrative than publishing through Google’s AMP format or even Facebook Instant Articles, which many publishers abandoned because of its monetization issues.

A second publisher, which saw fill rates of around 15 percent throughout 2018, has noticed a bit of an uptick in 2019 too, with fill rates climbing to between 20 and 25 percent. This source said that increase was encouraging, but stressed that the fill rate remains “abysmal” on the whole.

There is a little good news: all the publishers contacted said they were seeing increased traffic being driven to their own websites, and that is likely their best hope for indirect Apple News monetization.

One source at a publisher said the company was hoping to find ways to use Apple News to drive podcast downloads. Another was hoping it would be able to figure out a way to drive more people to hit a paywall on their owned sites. A third said it is planning to work harder at converting its Apple News readers into newsletter subscribers.

Apple is currently trying to sign up publishers to its news subscription service, but is meeting opposition from major players due to wanting a 50% revenue cut, the remaining 50% being split proportionately between all the publications people read.

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