Just one month after its launch on 14 December 2009, The Guardian announced that its paid application (£2.39) for the iPhone and iPod had been downloaded 70,000 times. Topping the chart of paid-for applications (news category) of the App store in the U.K. and ranking high in several countries where it is accessible.
The Guardian App, developed jointly by
an in-house team and 2ergo, created an interesting precedent in the newspaper industry. The rate of downloading continues apace, supported from now on by an international public. Without revenue from advertising, The Guardian App may well exceed £ 2 million revenues in its first year. Jonathon Moore, head of mobile products at The Guardian, gives us a first report of his experiences.
How did you arrive at the charge of £2.39?
Jonathon Moore: We took a look at other applications in the store and pitched our price on the basis of those, the price people were used to pay, the quality of the app and the big investment we put in developing it. We had no direct ability to benchmark against anything really, but looking particularly at the quality of games in the App Store, we took the view that our app was also a bit of software ultimately and in this category you compete also with games. A small charge for increased functionality that is specific to a single device is a really small trade-off: the ability to dip into quite niche content via the keyword pop-up, simple access to our great audio content and off course offline…
How long will it take for a return on investment?
Jonathon Moore: From the beginning our management made it quite clear that it had to be a commercial strategy. What we did not want to do was to cannibalize our other digital platform with an experience that we could not monetize. We have already covered the development costs, we already reached that target some time ago, quite easily actually. All I can say is that we’re now well over the last figure of 70,000 downloads we publicly released beginning of January. One of the really interesting things when we hit number one paid for chart in the App Store and good position in other countries also is that as you know most paid-for app are entertainment based, so maybe the app store took another step where a “serious” app can compete and beat some of the entertainment app.
What are your international perspectives with this app?
Jonathon Moore: The vast majority of our panel comes from UK but a substantial minority is now also in the United States, and with less significant figures in other countries. The big challenge for a UK group is the US; they represent 60 percent of the iPhone market. The Guardian brand has a unique advantage that some of it users, even globally, are passionate. But our main challenge is that our app cost. US$ 3.99 in USA and might appear expensive, compared to CNN or a free New York Times. For us it might be nice in the future that Apple change its commercial rules and provides the option to price differently according to the country.
Users pay to get The Guardian application, would they be annoyed if you included advertising?
Jonathon Moore: We were clear that we would not rule anything out, but we don’t think that shoehorning banner ads in the app is the right way to handle advertising. We don’t want to disrupt the user experience. At this stage we’re looking to what sort of advertising we could do, as you can imagine given the success of the product we have already a lot of interest from a number of big brands. But at this stage we’re happy with the product we launched, free of ad at the moment.
The next months will be used to observe the user feed back and enhance the relationship. A significant majority of those who downloaded the app use it on a daily basis; it’s very interesting on an engagement perspective. Also, 40 percent of our audience is visiting the application longer than five minutes per session which is incredible and that’s not measuring offline usage.
What was the best marketing vehicle to promote your app?
Jonathon Moore: When we started the project we were very ambitious, for example we had established some download figures that we achieved super quickly, but I would say that more importantly we wanted to get very quickly a minimum of 4-5 stars ratings in the users reviews on the App Store, and we’re now passed a thousand. I have the feeling that people fundamentally misunderstand the App Store. It’s unlike any other commercial platform on which you release a product: you live or die based on user feed back and recommendation. Almost regardless of your commercial model whether it’s free, ad-supported or paid-for, if the user don’t like it, and it does not work for them, they will say so, and if that happens then you’re in trouble.
What are the difficulties when designing an app?
Jonathon Moore: Your have to rely on data and place the users at the centre of the development. You need to place the app in their hand… the testing went well so we had a hint that the quality was good and the app could be successful.
On the creative side you have to understand what your brand means. The most difficult part is to translate your brand into this new platform. You can’t just replicate other digital experiences; you have to understand the limitation and the benefit of that platform. The iPhone helps you to produce a browsing experience that is similar to the PC, as an example for content discovering. What we have learned it that this application has been a great tool to broaden our audience. The reach that we’ve achieved has been significant; I would estimate that 50 percent of our app users probably haven’t bought The Guardian newspaper for sometime if at all. That’s a significant benefit; any kind of product that can increase your audience is interesting.
How did you react to the launch of the Apple iPad, could it impact your digital strategy?
Jonathon Moore: We need to retain our customers and keep them engaged…For the time being, if you’re interested in paid for app, 96 percent of app downloaded are on iPhone. So our priority is our current app. But we certainly think that the iPad is an exciting piece of technology. Our strategy is to keep the quality high and it’s expensive to develop. The iPad has a much bigger screen size so we can’t just replicate what has been done on the iPhone.
Where do you put your mobile browser site in this digital strategy?
Jonathon Moore: Our mobile web site remains hugely important for us. It was launched in April 2009 and has now a million unique users. This mobile site is a commercial success with an ad-funded model, a big reach and a slightly different audience from the app. It does not have to be an “and/or” strategy. There are some difficulties to manage two mobile platforms but the audiences are slightly different and the usage also, there’s no risk of cannibalization between the two…
We have exciting plans for significant enhancement in the next 12 months in the mobile browser area. The April launch was really about getting back in business and we started from zero but we’re now leading the march after only 8 months. One thing also that makes us a little apart from other news media organization is the importance that our audience place on the comments and opinion we publish, so really our mobile web site is not only on breaking news but those other content are as important.
We don’t know who between Apple, Google technologies will win, so we want to remain platform agnostic. We will take the best of the different worlds, and use the app for what can’t be achieved via a browser.