iOS 14 redirects web links from News+ publishers directly to the Apple News app

Apple’s still-in-beta operating systems will automatically redirect News+ subscribers to the Apple News app when they click on links from a News+ publisher.

In other words, if you click or tap on a link to a paywalled story published by a News+ partner — including stories from our own Extra Crunch membership program — iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur will take you straight to the article page in the News+ app, even when the link ostensibly points to the publisher’s own website.

Tony Haile (who founded the ad-free subscription news service Scroll) tweeted about the change this morning, and I’ve been able to replicate it myself.

The experience should be familiar to (for example) New York Times app readers who, when they click on a web link, are taken straight to the article page in the NY Times app. (In TechCrunch’s case, I noticed that Apple even prompts users to open the News app when they click on stories that aren’t paywalled.)

This addresses one of the more frustrating elements of being a News+ subscriber: Although your $9.99 monthly subscription gets you access to paywalled stories from publishers like The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal, you only get access via the News app — not the publishers’ websites. So I’ve often seen something I want to read on Google or Twitter, but instead of clicking the link, I have to open the News app and track down the story.

So this seems like it should significantly improve the reader experience, even if it might be a little disconcerting at first. And it only applies to News+ subscribers, who are opted-in but will have the option to turn off the “Open Web Links in News” feature in their News settings.

But as Haile noted, publishers may be less excited about the change: “Any strategic rationale that Apple News+ represents a separate channel/audience is now gone. This directly cannibalizes a publishers’ core subscription audience.”

Although Apple has not released News+ subscriber numbers, there have been several reports — including a November 2019 story from CNBC — suggesting that the service has struggled to attract new subscribers after signing on 200,000 users in the first 48 hours after launch. And Digiday reported that publishers have been underwhelmed with revenue.

Update: An Apple spokesperson just provided the following statement:

Apple is committed to creating the best experience for Apple News+ subscribers. This change offers subscribers seamless access to the content that is part of their News+ subscription right in the News app or publisher app, as well as providing publishers with increased engagement and revenue opportunities on Apple News. News+ subscribers can set their link preference in their News settings.