Media outlets ramp up efforts to grab a slice of apps action


MEDIA & MARKETING:As more newspapers launch apps, they are trying to avoid eating into their core business, writes SIOBHÁN O’CONNELL

A LOT more people in Ireland are going to be using the Apple iPhone after next week when Vodafone makes the device available to its customers.

Until now, the iPhone has been available exclusively on the O2 network, but with Vodafone joining the fray, media companies are ramping up their efforts to grab a slice of the Apple apps action.

The main driver behind the iPhone’s success is the huge number of apps, or applications, which can be downloaded for use on the device.

These apps, which number about 150,000, range from games to language translators. Many of them are free but the best ones are charged for, with most having a price point of under €10.

Just like when the internet first came along, media companies such as newspaper publishers, television stations and other news content providers now feel obliged to have an iPhone presence. The trick is developing a business model that pays its way and does not cannibalise the core business.

Among Irish publishers, the Irish Independent launched its iPhone app last October, which costs €2.39. The app delivers up to 15 fairly detailed news stories, which change every day.

The Independent is ahead to the extent that all the content on the app is available for free on the newspaper’s website. However, if you just wanted an overview of the main current affairs in Ireland, after buying this app you would never have to buy the newspaper again.

The Indo has adopted a different model for its business news app. This costs €4 a month or €12 for six months. The service consists of a menu of 15 top Irish business stories which changes daily. The company also has a breaking news app that uses a subscription model. This one costs €3 a month.

Next month The Irish Times is launching two apps, one of the newspaper and the other for the weekly Ticket entertainment supplement. Pricing has yet to be announced.

According to Paul Farrell, marketing director of The Irish Times: “It is essential for newspaper publishers to have an app. The big threat facing publishers is that the functional need of the printed newspaper is being replaced by digital formats.

“Newspapers still have a strong emotional connection with their readers but the challenge for publishers is how to persuade people to keep buying newspapers Monday to Friday for their news.”

As the gatekeeper of the apps arena, Apple takes a 30 per cent cut from all app transactions. This doesn’t leave much for the content provider, unless buyers cough up under a recurring subscription model.

“You’re not going to make money from the app download charge,” Farrell says, “but what publishers can do is deliver additional content – such as streaming video – that people will want to pay extra for.”

One of the most popular newspaper apps in the UK is the Guardian. Its app was launched three months ago for £2.39 and downloads now exceed 100,000.

Jonathan Moore, mobile product manager for the Guardian, says: “We see no evidence that the success of our app is in any way cannibalising our newspaper sales. Banner ads on small screens don’t really work so we are looking at new ways to monetise our app.

“What we can say is that the app has earned hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue that we weren’t getting before.”

Newspaper publishers would like to know who is downloading their apps but Apple doesn’t share this information. To get around this, the next version of the Guardian app will request subscribers to provide their e-mail address, although it won’t be mandatory to give it.

With the e-mails it does collect, the newspaper will then e-mail the app purchasers a questionnaire to get a picture of who they are.

The way forward for newspapers would appear to be devising niche apps for which consumers are prepared to pay.

Trinity Mirror plans to launch gossip and football apps that will be charged for while the Daily Mail is planning to launch 15 iPhone applications in the first half of this year.

The free app model can also yield dividends. The Telegraph’s free iPhone app has been downloaded more than 300,000 times and the newspaper says it has already returned more than 10 times its launch costs, thanks to sponsorship deals.

RTÉ has also ventured into the app space with a news app and apps for Radio 1 and 2FM.

In the UK, newspaper publishers have been lobbying the BBC Trust to block the BBC’s plans to launch phone apps for its news and sport content, because the move would “damage the nascent market” for apps. The publishers accused the BBC of trampling over the aspirations of commercial news providers.

Sales Online has asked us to point out that the sale of the company’s assets to Electric Media reported in this column last week only related to online advertising sales representation contracts and that the company continues to operate in the search marketing area.