7 June, 2015

Making Apps Work for Publishers

Not to dwell, but it may be helpful to recall why the promise1 of native apps for publishers has been unfulfilled.

  • Expectations were set very high — recall unironic heralds that the iPad would save newspapers. Also, The Daily once existed2.
  • Apps are expensive to develop from scratch and maintain.
  • Tools that try to leverage existing print and web workflows result in sub-par user experience (huge downloads, difficult navigation, static PDF-like rendering).
  • Publisher apps don’t require a lot of hardware-specific features and offer few advantages over a well built responsive website. In-app purchasing and notifications are probably the two most cited.
  • Paying 30% to app stores is an enormous upfront cost.
  • Media apps aren’t competing with other media apps they are competing with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat (this is true on the web of course, but homescreen real estate make it more true).

These are worth keeping in mind with the rumor that Apple is considering rethinking its 30% take from media companies, possibly in conjunction with changes to Newsstand. As Apple’s annual World Wide Developer’s Conference is upon us, let’s speculate what this could possibly look like.

Apple introduces Newsstand Publisher, an update to PRSS, which they acquired last fall. This is a tool that lets anyone publish to Newsstand without having to write an app. At its simplest, this would involve providing an RSS feed (probably with some new tags, a la podcasts) and some custom configuration (colors, typography, image placement). More complex features will allow for authentication with an existing user database, a paywall counter, fully customizable templates, rich media tools, and immersive native ads.

Apple will let publishers set subscription prices, starting at free, and will take a much smaller percentage of sales, starting at 5%. More complex features like paywalls will mean a higher payout to Apple.

This will position the Newsstand app for iOS users more as a general purpose news reader, which means it will compete head on with apps like Flipboard and Feedly but also Facebook and Twitter. It also gives users a reason to move Newsstand out of the junk folder on their last screen, alongside the Stocks app.

This neatly solves all of the aforementioned problems of native apps for publishers, save those pesky high expectations.

  1. Complete failure” would be a more accurate description, however, the Flicker Fusion style guide calls for avoiding snark and negativity wherever possible. 

  2. Sometimes snark is impossible to avoid when it comes to Rupert Murdoch.