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Side-loading and third-party app stores: EU regs forcing changes to Apple App Store PLUS An analytics mystery solved

This week, we look at changes Apple is considering to open up its app store to respond to new regulations in Europe and elsewhere.

A photo of a phone with Apple's App Store in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Photo by James Yarema
In the face of impending EU regulation, Apple is considering opening up its mobile platform to third-party app stores.

In the Pugpig weekly media bulletin, Pugpig’s consulting services director Kevin Anderson distills some of the best strategies and tactics that are driving growth in audiences, revenue and innovation at media businesses around the world.

Big changes coming to Apple app store in 2024

Apple had already made a commitment to allow publishers to opt out of the app store and direct people to their own subscription paths. It applies to “apps that provide one or more of the following digital content types — magazines, newspapers, books, audio, music, or video — as the primary functionality of the app”, and that applies to most Pugpig clients. Harvard’s Nieman Lab has a good breakdown of the process for applying for “external link account entitlement”, which is necessary to take this step. And we found in our recently released State of the Digital Publishing Market report that many publishers are interested in exploring the option. You can sign up here to download the report.

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But as Nieman Lab notes, Apple offered up this option as a privilege, and there were trade-offs. The benefits were that you would be able to keep all of your subscription revenue and avoid paying Apple a 30% cut, and you owned the relationship with your subscribers and that data. The shift also gives publishers greater flexibility in their subscription offerings than Apple currently allows. On the downside, you have to choose between in-app purchases through Apple and your own subscription path.

More changes may be coming to Apple’s app store as regulators flex their muscles. In anticipation of new EU laws expected to take effect in 2024, Apple is getting ready to allow third-party app stores and sideloading, the ability to download apps from non-Apple app stores that can then be transferred to your device, Bloomberg is reporting. And other countries, including India, are looking to follow suit as they investigate competition in mobile app stores, according to Indian tech site Medianama.

However, whether this will affect user behaviour or simply please regulators is another story, Medianama notes. Google has allowed sideloading on the Android platform, but developers still try to get approval to distribute their apps through the search giant’s store, Google Play.

And whether publishers will be able to avoid paying Apple commissions is still an open question. Bloomberg reported that Apple was still considering charging non-App Store apps a commission, although it would be lower than its App Store cut.

Obviously, this is a dynamic situation, and if you want to discuss how to take advantage of these changes in the industry, get in touch with Pugpig Consulting Services at

Where is all of that direct/none traffic coming from? Mystery solved!

We recently had a client who was seeing a large percentage of direct/none traffic to specific URLs, which seemed highly unlikely. It is not as if people were typing in the URL or had it bookmarked. Direct/none traffic is the analytics equivalent of an “I don’t know” shrug from Google; it’s traffic that it can’t account for. And for one story, this traffic was accounting for more than 60% of hundreds of thousands of pageviews so we needed to get to the bottom of the issue. That level of traffic couldn’t be accounted for by most of the usual suspects when it came to direct/none traffic sources, such as traffic from a bookmark, a link in Skype or a link to a document. We checked the analytics configuration and whether various things were integrated properly such as Google Analytics and MailChimp. Everything checked out.

After a little research, we found out that the culprit was none other than Google itself! We looked at Google Search Console, which helpfully breaks down traffic that comes from Google properties such as organic search, news or Google Discover. Google Discover delivers personalised content to signed-in Google users either via Chrome or their Google mobile app. Google includes your content based on the basis of “expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T)”, and as we found, it can drive a lot of traffic to your content. Google has of advice on how you can improve your chance of inclusion and also improve your visibility in Discover. And it’s worth noting, that if a user has the Google app installed on either Android or iOS and has notifications enabled, this is another route to the notification screen.

If you notice a spike in your direct/none traffic, go to your Google Search Console, which has a special Discover Performance Report. It will give you the total number of impressions that you have received via Discover and how many click-throughs as well.

You probably are wondering why Google can’t account for traffic in Google Analytics that is sent via a Google service. Inquiring minds definitely want to know. One theory is that Discover and Analytics are two different teams so there is an air gap between them. But then why is this information in Google Search Console? Or, another theory is that Google doesn’t want to make it too easy to learn how to game Discover. Regardless of why the traffic is tracked in Google Search Console but not Google Analytics, this highlights another way to build your audience organically, and it’s too good of an opportunity to ignore.

How to empower your product managers to say no

Product management has become increasingly common at media companies as they need managers who coordinate efforts across editorial, commercial and technical teams while representing the voice of the audience. The goal of product management as Becca Aronson, the founding executive director of the News Product Alliance, says is to bring these various stakeholders into alignment to achieve the goals of the business. The challenge is that different parts of the business can having competing goals or simply come from different professional points of view. Product Managers have many strategies to help bring stakeholders into alignment, but it helps if the organisations that they work for also have ways to support that alignment work.

Jodie Hopperton, who heads up the product initiative at INMA, says that companies need a clear set of goals that everyone in the organisation can articulate and understand. Managing a company’s product portfolio is rooted in priorities, and these high level goals help leaders and staff understand where to spend their time and resources. Jodie highlights a couple of different ways that successful companies are managing and communicating these priorities: North Star goals and OKRs, objectives and key results.

Clear goals enable effective product management. Last year, I interviewed product managers for research for my master’s degree. A chief product officer at a major US newspaper told me that his organisation had four goals, and he told his product managers that if an idea came that was outside of those four goals that, “with all the love and sweetness in your heart, tell them to piss off”. It sounds a little gruff, but for it is a colourful way of empowering product managers to say no so that they (and the organisation by extension) can say yes to the things that will actually allow the company to be successful.

Industry News

Here are some of the most important headlines about the business of news and publishing as well as strategies and tactics in product management, analytics and audience engagement.