App Happy: Why Even Small Digital Content Companies Need a Mobile Presence

Jan 14, 2013


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Article ImageAny self-respecting electronic publisher knows that content must adapt to the latest technologies and platforms to remain relevant to a fickle public. Today that means making your product available on as many portable devices as possible. "Users are turning to their smartphones and tablets more than ever before to search, play, shop and access the content they love while on the go. That's why it's critical to put your content, brand or business on an app, keeping users engaged and tuned in," says Li-at Karpel Gurwicz, marketing manager for Conduit Mobile. "Consumers want to be informed and entertained at the click of a button, and by putting your content at their fingertips at all times, you'll stay ahead of the competition as you increase brand awareness and build your online community."

Michael Esposito, senior vice president and head of publishing for Group FMG, says it's essential that digital content companies (DCCs)-even small publishers-consider launching apps as part of their digital strategy in 2013. "Not only is the print platform under significant pressure, but readers expect a digital presence as a supplement or replacement," says Esposito. "With the digital tools available today, publishers can engage readers more effectively than ever before, and highly effective apps can help facilitate this process."

Esposito cites several advantages that an app can offer, including:

  • New sources of revenue generation (e.g., e-commerce, advertising, premium features)
  • An alternative to the increasing costs and diminishing demand for print
  • Content monetization (archival, special packages, incentives for customer loyalty)
  • Brand evolution and proliferation to new platforms

"Customers are now moving into a demand media phase of their lives," says Jeanniey Mullen, global executive vice president/CMO for Zinio. "You've got to have a convenient way to connect with them. For example, if you publish a magazine about pets and that content is accessible to your reader on any device, it can become less of a magazine they enjoy only when they have downtime and more of a resource, a lifestyle management tool. It increases their level of engagement. Say the (app user) is travelling with his pet and needs to find a vet-instead of using a search engine, they may be able to do it through your magazine app."

Gurwicz says DCCs can choose several routes in creating an app: hire an individual in-house or freelance developer or team of developers, which can be costly but may produce the best results; use a third-party app development company or mobile design agency, which can be more affordable; or use do-it-yourself app maker services/software, including Maz, Mag+, HTML 5, Cocoa, and Ice Cream Sandwich, some of which offer freemium packages (search for options at CreateOwnApps.com). Depending on the features and availability you desire, prices to create and launch an app can range from under $1,000 for something basic to more than $100,000 for the elaborate and robust variety.

When planning an app, give careful thought to the most in-demand platforms you'll want to make it available for, including iOS, Android, Kindle, Nook and Windows Phone, says Esposito.

When it comes to designing your app, "you want to have a good-looking app that fits with your brand and offers a great user experience," Gurwicz says. "It should be sleek, responsive and easy to use. You'll also want to include the right features and functionality for your brand's users. This could mean offering unique and interesting content, allowing your users to communicate directly with your brand or each other from the app, or providing a cool new feature such as a game or tool."

Regarding pricing, many experts recommend providing a free or freemium product, at least initially. "Free apps will build a larger user base than paid apps, but apps that provide an in-demand service do well when priced between $0.99 and $2.99," says Claire Fontenot, brand manager for Pixel Dash Studios.

Once it's created, plan on updating your app regularly to keep users interested. "Your content needs to be refreshed continuously to give people a reason to come back. If they're not opening your app at least five times every 30 days, it will become dormant," says Mullen, who recommends implementing social media feeds like Twitter in your app as a low cost way to ensure freshness of content.

Not everyone believes that having an app for magazines, newspapers, and e-books will render instant results, however. Roman Karachinsky, CEO of News360, believes there needs to be a more thoughtful strategy.

"So much content consumption happens on mobile, and there's a huge opportunity in marketing to this audience. That said, effectively distributing your app to mobile users is a challenge if you're not a known brand," says Karachinsky. "Unless you can deliver an excellent app experience and invest in marketing channels, it's better to just focus on the content and rely on more traditional channels for distribution."

Another alternative to creating a standalone app is to have your product-particularly if it's a newspaper, magazine, or book-repackaged for different platforms by a distribution network that can take your existing files and convert them for aggregator apps like those available from Flipboard, Issuu, Nook, Zinio and Next Issue. Still another option is to simply build a mobile-optimized site.

There are many options for making sure your content can reach mobile audiences, but it's up to each company to decide which one works best for them. But continuing to ignore your mobile strategy is a risk no digital content provide should be taking.