Last fall, I came across a deal where you could get 4 months of Apple News+ for free. I figured I’d give it a shot to see if it was worth the $10/month as I’m a big believer in paying for quality news. Currently, I get most of my news from RSS, the New York Times, and Google News. I tend to send a lot of of those articles to Instapaper for reading later. I also listen to a ton of podcasts about sports, politics, news and other general-interest NPR-style content in Overcast. Was there a spot for another source of news & entertainment? I wasn’t convinced, but figured I’d give it a shot.

What You Get From Apple News+

Apple News+ is a section of the Apple News app that gives you access to hundreds of current & past issues of top magazines as well as audio versions of many of the top articles read by professionals. While you can get a lot of content for free with the base version of the app, the plus version is centered around full magazines and audio content on top of the basics.

Looking over the roster of magazines offered by News+, I quickly spotted a dozen or more publications I’d gladly read if I were to start using the service. Users are able to follow magazines they like, and you’ll see them show up when new issues are available. You’re able to set up notifications for when new issues are available, as well as download them for offline use if that’s your thing.

The News+ Magazine View

In addition, specific stories are recommended based on your reading history and taste both within the News+ interface and the main news feed when you’re browsing. I’ve found the recommendations to be pretty solid overall, and being able to give the stories a thumbs up/down have helped to weed out sources I don’t really enjoy.

On the iPhone, you can also access the audio versions of many top articles. There’s a tab to browse all audio stories, but the service also recommends stories to you much like it does within the main News+ section. What’s neat about the audio tab to me is the ability to create a playlist of stories to listen to.

News+ Audio Page

I’ve found that I’m spending more time listening to these articles over podcasts in the past few months, and I think I like it a lot better as audio entertainment because it’s “tighter” (and therefore much shorter but more informative), doesn’t have ad reads, and allows me to catch up on articles when doing chores or going for walks with my dog. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped listening to podcasts, but I was genuinely surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the News+ audio feature, and it’s one of the things that has kept me as a subscriber.

The Reading & Listening Experience

Reading articles can be done 2 ways in News+: either by jumping into individual magazine/newspaper articles via recommendations on the main feed, or as a complete magazine via the News+ tab. A few of the magazines are basically glorified PDFs and the readability on those is sub-par, but the majority of the issues are formatted for a screen like the iPad and are a pleasure to flip through.

While the reading experience is great, the interface to browse the magazines you follow is suboptimal – I wish there were a list you could access to view all of them instead of a small carousel at the top of the section. Overall, navigation in Apple News isn’t great – I wish you could configure tabs on the sidebar or hide things completely as well. It can be very tedious to organize or sort through everything even if the actual reading experience is pretty solid. Don’t even get me started on the Mac Catalyst version of the app. Honestly, I wish there were a web version for when I’m at my computer during the day. The MacOS app is that bad. Then again, you could say that about literally any app that is using Catalyst.

The listening experience is really nice – having a running playlist of stories you can listen to is super easy to get going with and you can reorder the queue in a way that’ll make any Apple Music users feel right at home. You can select any article and either play it now, play it next or play it last in the queue. Swiping in the queue will give you a few options to remove, “thumbs up/down” or move the story to the top/bottom. When playing you can select a few playback speeds (1x, 1.25x, 1.5x, 2x) but I’d like more granularity there if possible. Another neat thing is the ability to tab a button to take you the actual story in text form, right where you were listening at. This can be helpful if you need to jump back and forth between audio and text.

Why I’m Sticking with News+

The sources I use other than News+ won’t change after messing with this service for a few months but I do think I’m going to stick with it. What I like about News+ is how it makes the experience on my iPad and iPhone in particular so much nicer. On the iPad, it’s more of a “lean back” experience where I can flip through magazine articles, save things for later and enjoy the reading experience more than I can on the web. On the phone, the audio stories mean I’m getting to enjoy more journalism than ever in those times where I’m not sitting down and focusing solely on reading.

I feel like I’m consuming less “junk food” in the form of click-baity blog posts and rambling podcasts and I’m a lot happier and informed as a result. If you haven’t given News+ a chance, I’d recommend you give it another go.

Apple News+ is Actually Good

Last fall, I came across a deal where you could get 4 months of Apple News+ for free. I figured I’d give it a shot to see if it was worth the $10/month as I’m a big believer in paying for quality news. Currently, I get most of my news from RSS, the New York […]

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As I mentioned recently, I’ve been listening to even more podcasts than ever that I’m mostly tooling around the house and doing yard work with all of this spare time. As a result, seeing some of the shows and sites I love start to feel the pinch of reduced ad spending have sparked me to start directly supporting them via membership or donation. Recently, I’ve started to support the sites and podcasts that give me the most joy in these fairly monotonous times: Pewter Report, Relay.fm, Macstories, The Athletic, Stratechery and a few others. All told, it’s about $25/month but I feel like I’m doing my part to keep these folks going.

I’m no behavioral economist but I’ve always wondered what the average difference between the increased brand affinity a subscriber/member feels and the subscription fatigue associated with yet another monthly fee is. I feel like the $5 or so a month I pay to these services, podcasts or sites that give me a ton of joy has an outsized amount of real estate in my head. I love knowing that I’m helping directly support podcasts, apps, websites but I also find myself sweating the relatively small amount that I’m giving them. I know they’re in a bind too – going subscription-only reduces their addressable advertisement market and overall reach, while relying only on “donations” makes that support super elastic.

I’ll be curious to see how much the pandemic-induced ad spending changes the podcasting revenue game. The most positive effect could be additional creativity around revenue generation, ad reads and membership programs, with the least being consolidation, paywalls and more invasive tracking. Let’s hope there’s more innovation in the “positive” areas.

Direct Support & Subscription Fatigue

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been listening to even more podcasts than ever that I’m mostly tooling around the house and doing yard work with all of this spare time. As a result, seeing some of the shows and sites I love start to feel the pinch of reduced ad spending have sparked me to […]

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Thought I’d give a quick update on something I’ve been spending a ton of time with in quarantine life. I’ve been a heavy podcast listener for a long time now – I can remember listening to podcasts even before it was part of the iTunes Store, using apps to side load mp3s into the app. My list of favorites has ebbed and flowed over the years, and being stuck at home has given me more time to listen than ever.

I’ve used a ton of apps over the years as well, but lately I’ve started using Pocket Casts more instead of Overcast. The reasons are varied but ultimately despite the fact that I like the way that Pocket Casts looks and “feels”. Overcast works extremely well, is built by an indie developer (Marco Arment) who I love to support, and he’s been on the forefront of a lot of the best features in podcast players over the last few years. He nailed voice boosting, silence trimming and sharing way before the competition caught up (Apple, Google, Spotify, Stitcher etc haven’t even tried yet).

However, despite the fact that Pocket Casts is a little more fiddly than Overcast is, I love the little details like the way the UI subtly changes to match the podcast artwork, the way you can modify the up next queue, and the multiple of ways you can listen. Pocket Casts supports Chromecast, Sonos, has a web app, a desktop app, and is on nearly any platform under the sun. They’re also owned by NPR and a few other radio stations, so it’s not like it’s some evil company like Luminary or Stitcher.

I’m not 100% sure that I’ll switch away from Overcast full time as it’s familiar and more “set it and forget it”, but I am growing weary of the app’s design, lack of multi-platform strategy and slower pace of development.

2020 podcasts

2020 Podcasts

One of the neat things about Pocket Casts is that sharing what you’re listening to is pretty simple. There’s a built in interface that allows you to share some or all of the shows you listen to, which is a nice middle ground between the single-episode sharing in Overcast and some overly-aggressive sharing of everything you listen to.

I’ve been listening to mostly the same group of podcasts for years now. However, with additional downtime at home and more time doing things like yardwork, I’ve picked up a few new shows to augment my old favorites. I’m not a completionist by any stretch – I tend to look at the show notes and aggressively remove shows I’m not interested in.

You can find the full list here.

My 2020 Podcast Lineup

Thought I’d give a quick update on something I’ve been spending a ton of time with in quarantine life. I’ve been a heavy podcast listener for a long time now – I can remember listening to podcasts even before it was part of the iTunes Store, using apps to side load mp3s into the app. My […]

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Peter Kafka, for Recode

Spotify is making yet another big budget purchase aimed at getting a lead in the growing podcast industry: The streaming music company has agreed to a deal to purchase The Ringer, the podcast-centric media company run and owned by Bill Simmons.

Good for Simmons and The Ringer. I do worry about where we’re heading with targeted ads, walled content gardens, and podcast fragmentation though. For now, they appear to intend to follow the Gimlet acquisition model of making content available freely to all. You wonder for how long, however.

Also, I hope some of the great writing continues, as the Ringer and The Athletic are two of the best sports sites out there right now.

Spotify is buying Bill Simmons’s The Ringer

Peter Kafka, for Recode

Spotify is making yet another big budget purchase aimed at getting a lead in the growing podcast industry: The streaming music company has agreed to a deal to purchase The Ringer, the podcast-centric media company run and owned by Bill Simmons.

Good for Simmons and The Ringer. I do worry about where we’re heading with targeted ads, walled content gardens, and podcast fragmentation though. For now, they appear to intend to follow the Gimlet acquisition model of making content available freely to all. You wonder for how long, however.

Also, I hope some of the great writing continues, as the Ringer and The Athletic are two of the best sports sites out there right now.