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Mobile apps will not save journalism

5 min read

Last week something happened to me. I felt so compelled by the content of an article on the Belfast Telegraph website that I registered so I could comment.

The articel in question is this one: "Can Mobile Apps Save Professional Journalism?"

The short article explains the 'appification' of the Internet and the effect it is having on media companies. Users can now download music, read books and make purchases all through apps and on mobile devices.

However, at no point does the author suggest how apps themselves are going to "Save Professional Journalism", which as you recall is the headline of the article.

Strange.

Except it is not.
You see, media companies are so busy saving their industry that they fail to see that the professions that make their businesses are as strong as ever.
Is the quality of music worse now than what it was 20 years ago?
What about the quality of fiction? I read more books now than I did as a child, because I use the kindle app. Technology has made this possible and in particular the Internet.

The investiagtive quality of journalism is not in question, nor is the ability of a journalist to report the facts. Quite simply, journalism does not need to be saved.
A quick search reveals that professional journalism (we are told) is at death's door, succombing to an unsustainable business model.
The internet opens many doors and the opportunities for a journalist to create and distribute content are almost endless. The trouble, of course, is how do they monetise this content.

Naturally publishers i.e. newspapers should change their business model and charge for access to their content. Except that is a massive risk and is surely doomed to failure.

We are a generation who consume masses of content with little regard to the content owner or the creative mind behind it. We are so disloyal that if we are offered a freebie, we grab it regardless of whether we need it or not. The chances we'll come back (to the product) are even lower.
The only way you can compete is to offer truely interesting content and a service that users can rely on.

Back to apps.
I do not see apps saving anything, certainly not 'news'. You see apps are little silos of data and when you are inside a silo you cannot see what's going on around you. This is a problem for an internet user.
I accept that apps are a major force at the moment and I would suggest (on my own usage) that most iPhone or Android owners have 50 apps on their phone.
I only use about 5-10 regularly.
For apps to save 'meda' the consumer needs to be using their app regularly. The guardian app I reviewed in a previous post is a good example. However, if I was asked to continue to pay a subscription I would have to consider the potential benefits and the competition. Indeed on my Android device I have full access to the Guardian website and no longer have a need for an app.

So I've paid for the app, but on a different device (with a better browser) I no longer require the app. Do you see the potential problem in this business model?

The BBC have been given the go ahead to release mobile apps, so what wont they offer (for free) that other paid models will? Again, how do you compete with free?

To jump back to the article, I was shocked by this statement: "Apps present a business model with much greater revenue potential than a website."

Really? How So? These questions are not answered.
I want to know what the author means by an app. Is it specifically iOS apps or mobile apps in general?
Is it also desktop applications or even web applications?
Why would a company move away from the web to make apps for so many different systems, when one website can serve them all?

If we accept that an app is different to a website (it's not, they're both content delivery systems) how can any business expect to make more money from their app than their website?
Presumably by errecting a pay wall or removing content.

You can place an ad in an app. Brilliant. You can sell more advertising space on a website than you can on an app.
There is nothing that you can do on an app that you cannot do better on a website.
Ah, but maybe I'm not getting the point. The author is suggesting that mobile use will become so widespread that overall usage of mobile browsing / apps will overtake desktop browsing. I agree, it most definitely will.
However, why do I need an app to view content? I can already view websites on my mobile browser.

Web apps can save the content business by making content available to the same user across multiple browsers and devices. This choice makes the service more compelling to the user (see the kindle app as an example) and ensures the content owner drives traffic to one single source.

This traffic should be enough to generate the revenue required to keep content owners happy. But if it's not, they can always erect the wall and go the way of the Times. It's not pretty.
Can there be anything worse for a journalist than not being read?