Apple plans to add audio versions of publisher articles to Apple News+

Apple News+ is pivoting to audio.
Over the past several months, Apple has been asking the publishers participating in its year-old premium program for permission to produce audio versions of the stories distributed there, according to sources at four different publishers that have heard the pitch.
Apple will handle production costs, and compensate publishers in the same way it compensates them for the written content available on Apple News+, two sources said; Apple metes out 50% of subscriber revenue to publishers based on how much time those subscribers spend with publishers’ content in a 30-day period.
The option of listening to stories on Apple News+ fits into a recent trend of publishers offering audio versions of their stories on their own properties, such as their websites, or within their mobile apps.
Sources at two publishers said Apple initially wanted permission to produce audio versions of whatever story they thought might be a good fit for the audience.
Those two sources said that now they will pitch pieces to Apple, partly to avoid any roadblocks relating to intellectual property: Some of the content that appears in Apple News and Apple News+ has been produced by freelance writers, and freelancer contracts typically do not allow publishers or third parties like Apple to reuse stories without consent or additional compensation.
Even with Apple handling most of the heavy lifting, several publishers regard the plans skeptically, three sources said. One said it has not seen evidence that Apple News’s audience will want to listen to audio versions of their stories. A second worried that if Apple emphasizes audio for News+, it could further skew the picture of who gets compensated: Listening to a story, after all, takes longer than reading one.
“All the publishers who were part of Texture are going to get into an arms race,” said a source at one publisher that’s heard Apple’s pitch.
There is no firm timetable for when the audio versions of stories will launch, two sources said.
Apple declined to comment on the record.