New privacy features in Apple's mobile and desktop operating systems will hit newsletter publishers including GXpress.
Continuing Apple’s theme of supporting user privacy, the computer giant – credited with handling 93.5 per cent of email newsletters – is about to make 'open' notifications to email senders meaningless. Apple's pledge to avoid a trade-off between "great features and privacy" will see an update of February's App Transparency Tracking opt-out feature – designed principally to challenge Facebook – not only blocking users’ IP addresses and their location in iOS15, but preventing senders from knowing whether their emails are opened.
"Specifically, Mail Privacy Protection will not allow email senders to track the pixel that is used to determine open rates," writes News Media Alliance research and insights vice president Rebecca Frank. "Email senders – including news organisations – will lose the powerful engagement metrics on how many of their promotions, offers, and importantly, newsletters, are being opened."
Nieman Lab’s Joshua Benton spells out the impact of the change, coming because Apple Mail is the dominant platform for email "in the US and elsewhere" and responsible for 93.5 per cent of all email opens on mobiles, according to recent Litmus market-share numbers. Even on desktop, that figure is 58.4 per cent.
“Open rates will now officially be useless,” Benton says, adding that "small publishers, especially individual newsletters, have the most to lose".
In commentary so far, writer Casey Newton quotes independent publisher Alex Kantrowitz whose ad-supported newsletter was sold out for the first half of the year "on the strength of a good old-fashioned reader survey".
Frank says Kantrowitz’s perspective may be the most helpful for news publishers that send newsletters and are concerned about the changes, "but as with any alternative, it is not practical to view it as a magic bullet solution to preserving long-term relationships – in fact, a simple open rate calculation was never an indication of that, either.
"It has just been the key metric by which advertisers value newsletter placements (until now). The point is that there are many ways to build relationships with readers, and as the industry shifts towards a more consumer-needs driven model, newsletters should be seen as tools for promoting engagement and building habitual, loyal, paying readers, not viewed solely for their potential to attract advertisers.
"Eventually, there will be a new 'open rate'. But as these indicators evolve, continuing to meet readers where they are and provide high-value products will best position your organisation for success," she says.