Independent.ie is the first Irish national newspaper publisher to launch an iPhone app on 22 October 2009. It also belongs to the the first wave of publishers worldwide to successfully charge for news apps.
In this interview, Patrick Lenehan, Chief Technology Officer for the digital business of Independent News and Media in Ireland, explains the launch process and customer feedback.
Prior to joining INM, Lenehan held a number of commercial and technology management roles in a range of international newspaper and media organisations. Outside of the publishing industry he has experience with a Big 5 management consulting firm and a U.S. software multi-national. He will be a speaker at WAN-IFRA's 8th Mobile Media Days (18-19 May 2010 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Could you explain this Research & Development partnership between Independent Digital and the Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG)?
Patrick Lenehan: We deliver mobile products in partnership. TSSG provide R&D input and expertise while Independent Digital provides business and product specification input. We find this a very creative and fast way to work.
TSSG is part of the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland and its research focus is on the dramatic changes occurring in the telecommunications software industry. Independent Digital works with FeedHenry (www.feedhenry.com) a TSSG spin-off company on the delivery of smart phone applications.
Independent Digital is the digital division of Independent News and Media in Ireland. We are responsible for all online activities across news, recruitment, directory, property, shopping, affiliates etc. Part of this encompasses new product development and new devices. We seek to partner with best-in-class organisations that can deliver technical solutions for us. We have a limited number of R&D partnerships with specialist providers and find they deliver great and usually better than expected results. This comes about because there is a different mix of people working on a project compared to an internal project team or a standard client/supplier relationship.
You have chosen a paid-for scenario with your application. Will you include ad revenues later on? Which forms would be the most appropriate in your opinion?
Patrick Lenehan: We wanted our mobile products to be paid for so we did not start with an advertising/sponsorship-supported model. We conducted our own primary research and looked at research in the marketplace – this pointed to customers valuing the delivery of iPhone and other smartphone applications enough to pay for them. Advertising and sponsorship will follow. At the moment we see a possible lack of targeted ad inventory on apps in our market but as that market matures we will be well placed to deliver. We feel that by charging for our app we are prequalifying customers for advertisers and agencies. We saw some reports that said customers who pay for apps have the highest propensity to make payments online and to use the app itself on a regular basis.
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The price of your iPhone app is €2.39. The Guardian has set the same range of price. How did you pitch that price?
What are some of the figures for the number of people who downloaded your app?
Patrick Lenehan: We launched on 22 October 2009 and went straight to the top of the Paid-for Apps chart on iTunes in our market. We stayed at the top for several weeks and remained in or around the Top 10 until the end of January 2010. We have high 4-figure subscriber numbers, which is significant for a paid-for iPhone news application in a market of our size. We also see interesting usage statistics with very high time spent per session and customers making a large number of repeat visits per week. This clearly demonstrates to us that apps are the real breakthrough mobile delivery method for news versus previous attempts on WAP, iMode, mobile internet, etc. This is the case for Independent.ie and it will be interesting to see if usage statistics from other news organisations are similar.
Is the service available abroad?
Patrick Lenehan: Yes, the iPhone application is available worldwide. The potential is high but we see a majority of customers from Ireland. It is early days but it shows there is a demand for quality news smartphone applications in our market and that customers appear to be willing to pay a reasonable price point.
Will you launch apps on other smartphones this year and what are your technology priorities in this area? Have you included the Apple Tablet in the strategy? And could this possible new hit influence your strategy?
Patrick Lenehan: Other smartphones and iPad are on our delivery roadmap. One of the benefits of having an R&D partnership with a specialist like FeedHenry is that the development effort happens once and their framework enables us to deliver the application across all smart phones.
Have you already developed a mobile website or is the decision to put more resources in apps?
Patrick Lenehan: The focus is on apps.
What are the favourite functions from the user perspective? And do you plan to launch other iPhone services in 2010? Any projects in the classifieds area as an example?
Patrick Lenehan: The feedback from customers on iPhone is very useful and timely. In fact, customers spotted a genuine bug concerning subscriptions. It was really helpful for us to receive the feedback so quickly.The Apple deployment process worked well and we were able to deploy an update almost immediately.
We recently launched two new iPhone applications and intend to deliver a lot more in 2010. The first was a pure Breaking News app which delivers breaking news throughout the day. Our latest app, live since 28 January, is Independent.ie Business which focuses on the niche business market. We have a strong business readership in Print and Online. We see the Independent.ie Business iPhone app as a way to segment the market and deliver tailored information to a specific sector.
We prioritised apps for news but we have classifieds in our sights and let us just say some different non-traditional apps are also planned.
What marketing is possible to maintain the momentum around your app and extend to non-traditional readers?
Patrick Lenehan: I will come back to you in 12 months on that one to see if we have been successful. This is definitely a time to test things, learn from the results and refine. However, it is good to be first out of the blocks in our market. Our intention is to keep customers interested by providing an evolving service and reward users for purchasing our apps. We continually try to innovate and look for ways to increase user engagement in apps across news, classifieds and other areas. We will continue to roll out adhoc enhancements (already added caching and in app feedback) but will look in detail at some reward-based enhancements.
Many publishers in Europe are starting to print 2D codes with ads and articles to link to their mobile sites. Will you in the future, or do you see that as a mobile gadget?
Patrick Lenehan: We don’t do it at the moment but it is a product we are tracking since it was first raised at one of our internal Innovation sessions about eight months ago. We see big potential here across a number of areas such as digital advertising but also a way to bring multi-media into our print products.
To get the app on iTunes go here: http://www.independent.ie/iapps