Why apps are becoming central to consumer publishers’ strategies

Media companies – consumer-facing publishers in particular – are reportedly looking to reddit for inspiration. An article on Quartz about the self-described “front page of the internet” states that points out that reddit has consistently been ahead of the curve when it comes to its strategy around user engagement and personalisation, and that it’s seeing success that other media companies can only dream of as a result:

“As a quantifiable metric for the supremacy of the site’s popularity, the amount of time the average user spends on Reddit per day is greater than any other social media site in the top 50. Clocking in at just under 15 minutes per user per day, it goes far beyond Facebook’s 10 minutes and 37 seconds and Twitter’s 6-and-a-bit minutes.”

Even if, as the vast majority of the reddit community believes, its recent changes threaten to derail those advantages, B2C media companies can absolutely learn from some of its successes to date – especially when it comes to the reddit app. Reddit has been relentlessly pushing the app on its visitors – both irregular users and subscribers – since having logged-in users allows for more accurate data. As reddit is trying to go more professional in service of brand and advertising money, it’s putting that app at the heart of its strategy.

Apps are one of those perennial extraneous part of media company debates – they have entire teams dedicated to development and strategy, but for the past few years they’ve been seen more as a nice extra than an integral part of a brand’s strategy. The biggest obstacle to their success remains the low propensity of users to open more than a handful of apps regularly – the old adage that if you’re not in the top five most-opened apps on a user’s phone, you may as well not be on the phone at all.

But there are indications that apps can be extremely beneficial to some consumer-facing magazine brands’ strategies. The Economist, for instance, is using its app in service of retaining its subscribers, furthering its goal of growing direct reader revenue. Its head of product Denise Law told Digiday that:

“People who engage with digital products are more likely to re-engage with their subscription. We want to demonstrate through the app that you don’t need to read from cover to cover to get value.”

The idea is that the app acts a supercharger for the reasons why subscribers chose to pay for access in the first place, using personalisation to highlight the sections of the magazine that fit the user’s interest. As the article states, it’s significantly cheaper to retain subscribers than it is to attract new ones, and reducing churn is right at the heart of consumer publishers’ strategies.

Keeping subscribers appy.

That’s doubly true given that publishers are still struggling with their relationship with platforms like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. Even as those organisations’ strategies align in some manner with media companies’, it’s all too obvious that the spigot could be turned off at any moment. Apps, while dependent to some extent on Apple and some other companies, do have the advantage of existing outside those platforms, of being walled gardens in which media companies can control every aspect of how their content is delivered.

As this Digiday article points out, that allows media companies to adopt formats that are proven to have beneficial effects on audience engagement:

“Moti Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Apester, said its Story product lets publishers and brands create visual stories and embed them anywhere, extending their social strategy across the web. Apester is also taking advantage of the reaction to Facebook’s news-feed changes to promote the product to agencies, saying that Stories can generate more engagement for brands and publishers beyond social media.”

They also have the advantage of existing on the devices on which audiences are increasingly spending huge amounts of time. The trend towards mobile consumption of news and entertainment content shows no signs of slowing down.

So if apps have always been percolating in media companies strategies, now might be the time that they become more central to publisher strategies.


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Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work in the TMT (technology, media, and telecoms) space, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.