Every day 50 % of all Flemish people read a printed newspaper. Every day more than 1/3th of our citizens visit our news sites. Flanders is therefore one of the leading newspaper regions in the world.
In addition, our publishers are very active and successful players on the Dutch market and also publish French language newspapers in Belgium.
Our news sites and mobile applications are successful amongst our youth and the educational project “Kranten in de Klas” receives almost 2 million orders within a few days.
Having acquired these assets we are also very much devoted to innovation. For over a year we have been working on publishing digital newspapers. We put the main emphasis on reader comfort. We intend to combine this with a healthy business model to gradually but vigorously build for the future.
To guarantee reader comfort we have primarily focused on the iPad, the newest gadget from Apple which has already been sold approximately 100,000 times in our region. Bearing in mind that about 3 percent of our readers are said to own one of those tablets, we want to put in an extra effort. Already 4 Flemish newspapers have an app available in the App Store.
Meanwhile we notice that cooperation is not as constructive as we hoped it would be. We have known for a long time that Apple wants to keep its users safe like birds in a gilded cage. We now notice that they also want to cage their business partners.
Being newspaper publishers we are used to trusting the fruits of our work to paper and since 15 years also to the internet. We are in other words as free as a bird and have a distinctive aversion to cages.
The past week we have learned from our colleagues at Roularta and NRC that Apple is starting to create a fuss about the possession of customer details and sales margins. This comes on top of the disadvantages our newspapers are already experiencing due to this stiff and gruff business model: no Flash for websites, apps only work on Apple appliances, purchasing is only possible through the App Store, etc.
It is clear Apple still has to determine course. We hope that they do not intend to claim total control over the value chain and trust the company still possesses sufficient common sense to realise newspaper publishers do not really need them. A web application might be a better option for readers and publishers than what is available today. Moreover, not everyone will buy an iPad.
The mistakes Apple is making today in terms of cooperation with Belgian and Dutch publishers could prove revealing for the future. This is why we would like to explain the rules of the game once more:
- A newspaper publisher is as free as a bird. The more you want to cage him, the more he will want to fly away.
- A publisher runs a commercial business, not a content machine. It is therefore normal that newspaper makers know the identity of their readers. We now know all our subscribers and we want to keep it that way. On top of that, for the digital newspaper we also want to know the readers from the single copy distribution. They are also newspaper customers.
- 30 % is neither a reasonable nor a suitable remuneration for the distributor who only adds a limited value. If Apple wants to take part in the conversation about subscriptions it will have to be at least ten times less that percentage.
- If you want to convince the reader to read newspapers on the iPad it is best to start with the millions of existing readers: refusing access to our dedicated readers is not a clever move. Making the publisher pay for this indicates an overestimation of the own position.
- Let your legal team study European legislation on the subject of competition very closely. You would not be the first to be rapped over the knuckles.
To conclude I would still to add this: the Flemish newspaper publishers love Apple. Our business instinct tells us to keep as far away from a gilded cage but we are still charmed and hope for common sense and a constructive cooperation.
Flemish Newspaper Association