“Great for users. Great for publishers. And great for Apple” - Alex Watson on Newsstand at news:rewired

 by Martin Belam, 9 February 2012
“I hate getting my credit card out to pay for things on the internet, but as journalists and publishers we want everybody else to do it” - Katie King, MSN

One of the panel sessions I attended at news:rewired was devoted to the notion of paid content. It featured some interesting insights from Alex Watson of Dennis Publishing and Tom Standage from The Economist, as well as some scrutiny of the Guardian’s business model, which, for those of us who work there, made for some uncomfortable listening.

Alex Watson

Alex Watson was presenting the approach that Dennis Publishing have take towards building iOS apps and making available their titles in Apple’s Newsstand. He started by stressing that the app store is best understood as a retail environment, not as a search environment. Placement is everything, he said, and he illustrated that with graphs that showed huge spikes when their titles or apps were featured prominently by Apple.

It is always good to get some real numbers in a case study like this, and Alex revealed that since the launch of Newsstand, Dennis Publishing have seen 3.5m downloads of their apps and titles, which have yielded (once Apple and VAT have taken their share) over $400,000 in revenue. Not to be sniffed at, but Alex pointed out that if you have had a million downloads of an app as people get a free trial, and not many people convert, then you’ve spent an awful lot in bandwidth.

Alex reminded us that the iOS audience is a demanding one - they expect bulletproof reliability, and they want device specific features and high production values. It is all to easy to get a one star review in the app store due to minor defects with the first release of an app.

For most publishers Alex Watson believes that the only way they can achieve scale of publishing is to take a hybrid approach - using third parties to effectively render PDFs within shell apps for some titles, using platforms like Adobe’s systems for others, and doing some custom in-house HTML5 development. Once you get some sense from the data as to what is successful, you have a better idea of which titles to invest in.

Newsstand is, he said, “great for users, and great for publishers. And great for Apple.” There was one cautionary note thought - Dennis have been unable to make in iPad app for Bizarre, as they are unwilling to compromise on the content to meet Apple’s content rules and regulations.


Next I’ll have my notes from the digital editor of the Economist, Tom Standage, explaining how their digital strategy was ensuring the magazine will continue to thrive in the future.

This is one of a series of blog posts featuring my notes from news:rewired:
“Did we get something of journalistic value?” - Liz Heron
“The Guardian’s Facebook app” - Martin Belam
“Great for users. Great for publishers. And great for Apple” - Alex Watson
“The Economist’s shift to digital”- Tom Standage
“The alchemy of media business model innovation” - François Nel
“Social media, investigative journalism, ethics and security” - Nicola Hughes
“Less is more - social media at the BBC” - Chris Hamilton
“Watch this (social) space...” - Darren Waters
“Me and my big photo of Mark Zuckerberg” - Nate Lanxon
“Social media optimisation” - Q&A

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