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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?

The Guardian News App

2 min read

The Guardian have recently released an iPhone App [iTunes Link] priced at £2.39 and for this small free they are promising to make news available to you on your iPhone for free.  What's more, the App offers off-line viewing, something that really is worth paying for.

So how does this compare to The Guardian's mobile site?
I have to admit that I was dubious about how good this App could be, given that the mobile site worked very well and The Guardian provide most (if not all) of their stories via RSS, therefore, do we need to spend £2.39.  The short answer is YES!
The UI is pretty and uncomplicated, the product does what it's supposed i.e. serve up news and with off-line reading I can load the paper before I board a flight and read on board.

Pictured below is the home screen which is customisable:

Guardian iPhone App

By scrolling to the bottom of the home screen users are presented with photo galleries and the option to read selected columnists:

The App also provides trends and offers a screen dedicated to the most viewed news stories on The Guardian:

One interesting aspect of the App is that it offers the user the opportunity to listen to the latest Guardian podcasts, right within the App:

Sometimes you might just want to browse more sections and you can do that very easily:

Granted there is nothing really new here, everything that is provided I could have read / listened elsewhere, but isn't that the point? With this App I get it all in one place and The Guardian have made a significant statement: users are prepared to pay to access news.  The challenge for the industry is to replicate this and whether charging for the App and offfering free content there after is sustainable.  At the time of writing The Guardian App was the highest grossing application in the iTunes Store which would suggest a sizeable proportion of iPhone / iPod Touch owners have purchased the App.

I would recommend this App to anyone.

Here is the official Guardian video to promote the App:

Downsizing newspapers

2 min read

The media industry seems to be in turmoil (like a lot of industries) due to its sheer size. Let's face it, the average newspaper is massive, in terms of staff, in terms of sections/categories and in terms of archive material. To save money and maximise revenue it would seem logical to me that any company would look at ways to cut costs.
How should newspapers do this? Should they reduce the amount of staff they employ?
Some would argue they already have, and to the detriment of quality journalism, but could the paper focus its energies on specialised content? Murdoch is quick to point to the success of the Wall Street Journal, is this the key? Charge for specialised content?
I'm not convinced, I believe that any paper whether in print or especially online should be getting enough eyeballs to generate advertising revenue.  If this revenue is not enough to cover costs and generate a profit then there is something wrong.  Who are your advertisers? How much are you charging? Is this representative of the coverage you offer your advertisers? Are you choosing advertisers that meet your user base?

So many questions but I feel those inside the media industry are simply not asking them and instead are pointing their fingers at rivals.

Is it greed? Could it be that the bottom line is corrupting their judgement and forcing media companies to pursue a holy grail which doesn't exist and by the time they realise this the industry will have consolidated? Meaning less media organisations and less titles.

Where is the innovation in the sector? Any innovation seems to be coming from new entrants i.e. sophisticated blogs and those who focus on niche markets, but the traditional media outlets seem stuck in their old ways.  Some regional papers do not even publish online or only offer a very basic service.

Where will the industry go, will it downsize and specialise or will it stagnate?

More News Madness

3 min read

Following up on my previous posts here and here, News Corp have inspired at least one other media group to erect a pay wall.

Johnston Press websites will either ask users to pay £5 for a three-month subscription to read the full articles, or direct them to buy the newspapers.

Johnston is the first regional publisher in the UK to trial asking readers to pay for its online news. Source: BBC 

I can accept that regional papers have a different business model to the dailies, but at the same time it occurs to me that regional's are probably more exposed to the Internet than their national counterparts.

Reading through a local paper you will not find 'breaking news' nor will you find 'exclusive' content, but instead you read stories that are valuable to a local community.

COMMUNITY.

You will be hearing a lot more about community and specifically 'Local' as search engine giants google and Bing pursue this market with more vigour in the coming months.
Ever wonder how yell.com is doing? When was the last time you picked up a copy of the yellow pages? Exactly, local business search has moved online and into search engines.

With local people using search engines to search for local products, where is the scope for local businesses to advertise in local papers? Advertisers have always gone where the market is.

How can charging for content save a regional paper?  I don't believe it can, if anything it will alienate your existing customer base and at some point a decision needs to be made on whether you are a web publisher or a print publisher - you can't be both!

Let's take a step back.  Do regional / local papers need to be online in the first place?  Maybe not, certainly if you are a weekly publication where is the value being online? At least as a print only publication you can be more exclusive and focus entirely on your core market, thus building a new generation of readers and maximising advertising returns.

So, what of Johnston Press? I wouldn't pay a fiver a month for local content, and I'm sure some if not all of their readers will feel the same.  By erecting a pay wall around local content all you are doing is driving your readers to visit your competitors, who will be smaller and more targeted and who may well offer a more informative local news and entertainment service.

Did I mention they were free to use?

Why would you stop Google indexing your news website?

3 min read

Rupert Murdoch is quoted on the BBC News site today stating that search engines that index "news" are essentially stealing the right to reproduce that content within their own search results.

"There's a doctrine called 'fair use', which we believe to be challenged in the courts and would bar it altogether,"

Is this someone who has fundamentally lost all grasp on reality? Has he, or none of his senior executives ever used the Internet?  I ask these flippant questions on the basis that the majority of Internet users use a search engine when looking for something, may that be clothes, electronics or news!  If News Corp go down the route of blocking search engines from accessing their site, that will mean less people read stories published on News Corp sites.  Less page views means less revenue, but Murdoch has a plan for that.

Murdoch's News Corp are already working on a model that will charge their users to access content within their websites by June 2010.  In fact, News Corp are working very hard:

"No. We are working very, very hard at this but I wouldn't promise that we're going to meet that date.

I understand that a business needs to generate revenue to survive, I really do, but I don't think News Corp (or Murdoch for that matter) understand that very few people will pay to access this type of content online.  The exact business model is unknown, but it has been suggested that there could be a tiered approach with premium content made available to those paying a higher monthly fee, while micro-payments could be applied to those looking to read a single story.

In the UK we have the BBC paid for by the licence fee i.e. it is essentially free to use.  The BBC News website already competes head to head with every news / media organisation out there, therefore if you introduce a subscription model who are your competitors and what will they charge?  As a user I already spend more time on the BBC News site than any other, introducing a pay wall only restricts my access to your site and it certainly does not encourage me to pay to read content that I can get elsewhere for free.

Quoted on Fox News, Murdoch goes on to say:

"There's not enough advertising in the world to make all the Websites profitable. We'd rather have fewer people coming to our Websites but paying.

This is fair enough, but if you compare it to other content industries like music and film how successful are they at this? In the UK I am not aware of any subscription model for watching films online, perhaps Love Film and iTunes can offer a similar service.  In the music business Spotify offers unlimited listening both at your desk and on your mobile for £9.99 per month with no contract.  This seems pretty good value as there are no adverts with this deal, but I wouldn't pay £9.99 per month to read news.
For News Corp to win over customers they will have to charge less than £1 a week and offer some really exclusive content and HD quality video streaming otherwise I fear their plan could backfire on them

Will you pay for content?

Why Newspapers have to adapt

2 min read

I have long been interested in the publishing industry and it is no surprise to me that media groups and distributors are falling into the same trap that the music and film business fell into some time ago, mainly their lack of business accumen and their inability to turn pageviews into revenue.

So what's the problem? Many newspaper websites already deliver more unique and niche content than their paper counterparts, so why aren't media groups turning a profit from their websites?

From asking friends and colleagues I get the impression that people are loyal to a particular paper - given the choice of which paper to buy, they regularly purchase the same title.
When asked what news they read online a slew of answers are returned.
What does this tell me? That online users are less loyal and more likely to visit a range of news sources, as well as their favoured paper.

Is there an opportunity here?

Perhaps you're news site is now going to get a broader range of readers and ultimately more page views. This then opens the door to a range of advertisers who will want to target readers based on your content.
This is actually a unique position for advertisers as they can get more accurate feedback compared to traditional media campaigns.

Newspapers should understand and accept that new technology is not the enemy but is rather the latest opportunity to grow their businesses.

How do they do this? By listening to their audience.

The editor might have ultimate control on content but it has always been the reader who has the most influence over a paper. For example, if that editor does not pander to the interests of their readship, sales of that paper would decline as no one would want to read content they're not interested in. The successful news sites are those that cater for all interests, but there is still room for niche sites.

I'll leave you with this thought:
Do you like the newspaper or do you like reading the paper? If your answer is the latter then online news is perfect for you.


the death of newspapers

3 min read

Michael Connelly has written an article detailing the publishing business' lack of respect for books. Well book reviews to be exact, but this highlights another failure in the newspaper business, that is their failure to embrace online content and to view digital media as a threat. Little odd they don't realise that the Internet can be their friend.
Publishing giants the world over are quaking due to falling paper sales and their failure to grasp the concept of doing business online. Their failure to monetise their online content early on matched with their failure to drive visitors to their sites has left them in unfamiliar territory.

There is a sense of impending doom within the industry. For every times or guardian newspaper website (both of which are excellent) there is a an independent or a newsletter site.

The bbc were quick to spot the potential of the web and backed by licence fee money they deliver what is probably the best media web site in the world. They are constantly at the fore with respect to news, sport and entertainment.
This I suppose is the problem faced by traditional print companies - how do they combat the rise of new media?

The internet is an easy way for new companies to get off the ground. It's relatively cheap, you can garner a global audience and your readers are always up to date with your latest content. This has enabled many new media companies to gain a foothold in this new market.
What traditional publishers failed to realise was that the internet would be easily accessible for most people whether at work, home or mobile. This means they have access to breaking news and all sorts of different content, a diversity that newspapers can't compete with.

All is not lost though. The newspaper industry forget that they have a loyal readership and can use their papers to promote their online business, something they are only just starting to realise. They need to go one step further and fully embrace online news and make it their priority.

Some publishers have seen the potential of ebooks and devices such as the kindle look set to see this trend continue, but newspaper don't need to be left out. Their content can be sent to mobile devices just as easily and many customers will identify those newspapers as being a legitimate source. This in itself gives them an advantage.

These traditional outlets for news have followed the same path that the music business followed, that is they have huffed and puffed, complained about digital content and in the end they have had to embrace it.

The question now is how far can the newspaper and publishing business embrace digital technology and finally move into the digital age?