Today a large part of the daily news is consumed through mobile social media apps. In fact, 50 percent of the time users spend on mobile devices is spent in social media apps. Unsurprisingly, a lot of magazine owners would rather invest in social media marketing than in a native app development. But is it true that developing native news apps for magazines isn't worthwhile? Or is the succes of a news app simply dependent on a clever concept?
We believe that with native news apps media businesses can get a great marketing channel with lots of possibilities for monetization. We’ve looked into the major problems in the media industry to show you how to turn a news app into a successful business venture.
How can a native app solve the key problems of the news market?
1. Monetization strategies.
News magazines often struggle to earn revenue due to intense competition. Subscriptions, advertising, sponsored stories, and events are the most common methods of monetization. Below are some examples of how a mobile app can help you monetize your online magazine more effectively than a website.
Advertising: While online and paper magazines can incorporate advertisements without much annoyance to the reader, it’s more difficult on web and mobile platforms because traditional digital ads - like banners and pop-ups - often seem invasive. What’s more, many readers have grown so accustomed to ads that they don’t even notice them anymore. That is why traditional advertising with cost-per-click monetization, is no longer profitable.
Despite the challenges mentioned above, mobile advertising is far from dead. It’s still a dominant monetization model for news websites and apps. Ads can be presented in a meaningful and effective way. One way to make ads effective is by using native advertising.
Native ads look like part of an app’s content offering a smoother reading experience and stimulating people to pay attention to advertisements.
The Huffington Post’s app, for example, runs ads along with its articles: The ads don’t stand out from the news content. The only thing that differentiates ads is a ‘sponsored’ mark and a direct link to a product page. To assuage readers’ privacy concerns, The Huffington Post also provides an “AdChoices” link that takes users to a page that explains why they are receiving certain ads. Readers can also opt out of ads on this page.
Subscription news services are threatened today by a the large quantity of free content available online. Subscriptions can generate revenue if an online newspaper or magazine has a strong readership. But when it comes to expanding readership, making a magazine available only through subscription has proven less successful. Many magazines make certain content in their apps available for free with an option to get full access to their stories by purchasing a subscription plan.
Wired, for example, employs this business model. Some editions of the magazine are free, but you can pay to get the specific unavailable editions you’re interested in or subscribe for unlimited access.
The New York Times, on the other hand, allows readers 10 free articles per month. Full access can be unlocked with a subscription.
[The New York Times app]
Events: A lot of news magazines gain revenue from advertising or selling tickets to events and conferences that they organize, sponsor or partner with. Music magazines can promote concerts or festivals, and fashion magazines can sell tickets to runway shows. Some niche magazines also sell items connected to the content they create.
People don’t normally use apps for consuming content. They use apps to do something engaging, like playing games, connecting with friends, ordering tickets or checking the weather. The Web, on the other hand, is more suitable for content consumption. Tablets and smartphones have excellent web browsers, and people use them to search for information and discover content on social media.
This difference between web and mobile is crucial for businesses that produce media content. But somehow most news apps fail to provide an engaging user experience on mobile platforms. Their apps are merely mobile-adjusted versions of their websites. This is why readers prefer consuming news through social media apps rather than through native mobile news apps. However, if a news app provides an engaging experience that differs from how we read news on the web, this app will be appealing to readers.
Social media features: If you can’t beat them, join them. Since people use social media as a primary news source, it can be advantageous to turn your news app into a social news app. Apps can offer various news feeds for readers to follow. They can let readers collect articles they like, save articles to read later, and even create notes. This way readers can express their interests, share thoughts on certain articles, and get followers, comments, and likes on the articles they have collected.
Notes: Sometimes a particular quote from an article is more important for a reader than the article as a whole. Creating personal notes and saving quotations with references to articles can help users collect information that is important to them. This feature is sometimes more useful than bookmarking.
To be attractive for readers, an app must be useful and easy to navigate through. We recommend the following features for a news sharing social media app:
- "Live” or “breaking” news feed.
- “Most popular” news feed
- Save button on articles
- News feeds by categories
- Sharing to other social media apps
- Search by story, author, and topic
- Push notifications with articles from categories that a user subscribed to
- Personal profiles
- Offline mode
3. Reader retention.
People can find tons of content on the web or on social media, which is why it can be difficult to increase reader retention for a news app. Furthermore, readers might like the content from a certain magazine and even download the app, but once it’s downloaded, they tend to forget about it. If you want to increase reader retention, you will need to implement some special features in your app.
The biggest difference between news consumption through social media and news consumptions through native apps is that social media lacks the ability to curate news stories to satisfy the interests of readers. Stories often get lost in constantly updated Facebook or Twitter feeds. With a native app readers can select the topics that are most important for them. Curated feeds are a great way to maintain readers because they aggregate content that people want to read.
By using machine learning technology, these curated feeds can be carefully tailored for an individual reader. The aggregator SmartNews, for example, is uses a machine learning algorithm that predicts which topics will interest readers in the future.
[The SmartNews app]
There are several ways to remind users to go to the app to check out news stories they may be interested in. Push-notifications often work better than e-mails or web notifications.
There are also other tricks to make users open an app more often. One of them is showing news updates on the lock screen. Locktimes, for example, is a news app that presents the news on the lock screen of Android smartphones. The news that the app shows is personalized for each reader. This feature is very useful because it allows readers to instantly get access to the headlines of interesting news stories without even unlocking their phone or opening the app.
Watch apps for smartwatches can also deliver the news promptly and conviniently. With updates landing on smartwatch glance screens, readers will be able to instantly follow up on events that are important for them.
Read also: How we created an animated watch app
One of the biggest challenges for media businesses is to come up with captivating content that will keep attracting readers. With so many competitors on the market, even established businesses struggle to produce compelling content. By offering various types of content a mobile news app can differentiate itself in the saturated news market.
Video: Research shows that visual content incentivizes more interactions because short videos take less effort to absorb. You can create a news app that focuses solely on video content. Try to make these videos as short as possible because the best user experience on mobile platforms usually aquire short interactions. A news app can display small documentaries, political debates or business analysis, while a fashion magazine can display makeup tutorials and fashion week commentaries.
One news app that has taken this approach is Newsy: Video News. The app provides entire news stories within two minute (or shorter) videos. This tactic works very well on mobile platforms.
Virtual Reality: Virtual reality is an exciting opportunity for news app development. Instead of simply reading news, people can be immersed into the story being told. Virtual reality lets viewers experience events like protests, conflicts, and sport championships almost like they were actually there.
The New York Times has launched a VR app for streaming news that is available for both iOS and Android devices. The NYT’s VR app is free, but earns revenue by featuring VR ads as part of the app’s content. You can check out our article on how to make content for a VR app here.
Audio: Readers might use social media and read articles while they are passing the time on public transport, but that’s not possible if they are driving a car, riding a bicycle or working out at the gym.
In these situations, people often use their smartphone for listening to music. But they might also listen to podcasts from their favorite online magazines instead. If audio files could be synced for offline playback, a news app would be able to compete with podcast and radio apps.
See our case study: Developing Halaa, an app for voice and video with sound effects
Infographics display a lot of information in an easily digestible format. Infographics are perfect for mobile platforms because they quickly inform readers about the most important facts of a news story in a more entertaining way than reading a whole article. You can also animate infographics or present them in a game-like format where users consume news by accomplishing simple tasks in the app.
5. Native user experience.
Even though people prefer using social media for news consumption, social networks actually aren’t the most convenient platforms for reading articles. When you open an article from Facebook or Twitter on your smartphone you will get transferred to a mobile browser. Browsers are often slow and it feels awkward to be moved from an app to a browser just to read an article.
Facebook get's around this problem in iOS by using iFrame, displaying a site within the social app. However, owners of Android phones will still be redirected to a browser.
Instant Articles - a new feature just launched by Facebook - also opens articles natively in the Facebook app for both Android and iPhone. For now, Facebook only works with a limited number of publishers, but there will be more partners in the future.
Even taking Facebook's recent progress into account, a well-designed native app still offers better experiene for media consumption. Social media might have made it more comfortable to read single articles, but when it comes to customization and navigation to similar articles within the same newspaper, a native news app is much simpler and more user-friendly.
Native news apps can provide many possibilities for presenting content, making them a strong competitor to social media. Social media apps can improve user experience with news content consumption, but they can’t create new concepts of news, such as curated feeds or infographic displays, in the same manner that native apps can.