On 25 September TheMediaBriefing hosts Mobile Media Strategies, the only UK event on mobile product development and business models designed for and by content publishers, featuring speakers from the FT, Future, Dennis, The Guardian and more. In a new series, we look at the challenges and opportunities as content moves from print, to screen to device. Don’t miss part one and part two of the series.
So much time is spent by publishers trying to get readers to come to their sites and download their apps, perhaps in the hope they will buy a copy of the latest magazine, a subscription or maybe look at some ads.
But what if you could build a business model based on your content being consumed and event paid for on someone else’s platform? Aggregation and curation apps and platforms are all the rage – so what can you get out of them?
Flipboard’s curated paywall
The New York Times is the global poster child for subscription-based news and entertainment websites, with half a million paying subscribers and a healthy growth rate of new customers of 13 percent a year. Its permeable paywall allows non-subscribers to read 10 articles a month.
That strategy is going well with digital revenue helping operating profit (before one-off charges) to rise to $76.1 million in Q2 this year (results). Readers appear to like the flexibility of choosing to read NYT content online, on their smartphones or tablets – or all three.
But managers at the NYT noticed something odd: one fifth of paying customers still chose to read NYT content not on those purpose-built apps, but on third-party apps like Flipboard, the magazine-like personalised aggregation tool. They could at that point have said “THIS IS AN OUTRAGE” and demanded Flipboard stop linking to and re-publishing its precious words and pictures – just as they did in 2010 when the NYT angrily demanded Apple remove the Pulse aggregator from the App Store.
That now feels like a long time ago: this time they signed a content agreement with Flipboard so that all NYT subscribers get access to NYT's content on Flipboard. It’s the first time the paper's content has been available via a third-party app and a significant moment.
Surprisingly, the NYT-Flipboard plan isn’t about increasing subs per se: “The partnership involves an advertising revenue split between The Times and Flipboard. The Times will sell full-screen ads that appear between its Flipboard pages, which are intended to be more attention-grabbing than conventional Web advertising,” as the Times itself reported.
The Wall Street Journal has a similar arrangement with Pulse – but that does include a split of subscription revenue. It’s a smart way – in theory – of keeping subscribers happy by offering them good content, convenience and functionality.
Not all is well in curation land
But not everyone’s convinced by the aggregation/curation app model. Two Conde Nast titles, the New Yorker and Wired, last month stopped trying to sell advertising on Flipboard and scaled back what were comprehensive content feeds to rudimentary bits a pieces.
Ad Age reported on- and -off-the-record complaints from magazine executives about the curation app business model, which essentially boil down to: “We’re concentrating on our core model” and “Why should we waste time on a platform that doesn’t make money.”
Another problem is that the design, function and user experience of apps like Flipboard is so good, it makes other magazine apps look bad. As an unquoted source tells Ad Age: “Nobody will deny that Flipboard is a beautiful product, but the question is, is it too beautiful?”
New wave of curation tools
There is no shortage of other curation tools for you to try. Many are watching Google closely, with its Currents platform now coming pre-installed as standard on Android devices like the new Nexus 7 and the Galaxy Nexus. Publishers lsuch as The Guardian have been enthusiastic early adopters.
The CNN-owned Zite is a very impressive and highly addictive personalised curation app that learns over time what users are most interested in. Several publishers have signed content deals with Zite, with nine more including Macworld and the LA Times joining up last month. Zite publisher partners can overlay an ad on their stories as they appear, persuading readers to download an app or take out a subscription with them. Zite claims that the clickthrough rate for these ads is three percent, far higher than the industry average.
There is of course a danger of allowing a third party to build a content business using your content. Zite doesn’t employ journalists and doesn’t have to bear the cost of the Baghdad bureau, that totemic evergreen example of journalistic costs.
But the move towards apps that offer the best functionality and convenience isn’t going away: publishers should look at Zite and Flipboard and either learn from them, or work with them.