Online magazine mobile app

Should Your Online Magazine Launch a Mobile App?

How to decide whether your online magazine should develop a custom mobile app

The percentage of publishers with standalone mobile apps is tiny, but with the potential for significant upside—an opportunity to generate additional revenue and grow existing subscription programs—more magazine publishers are launching their own mobile apps.

Global mobile app revenues topped $365 billion last year, and that figure will continue to rise as consumers spend even more time on their smartphones and tablets.

Despite incredible growth in the app marketplace, few online magazines have put in the resources necessary to launch their own custom mobile apps. Instead, publishers have largely focused on reimagining their websites for the mobile web. Using a combination of plugins and mobile-first web design tactics, magazine publishers have been able to add all kinds of interactive features to their websites. Those features have helped drive subscription growth.

One of the reasons why online magazine publishers have been hesitant to devote the resources necessary to build standalone mobile apps is out of fear that the number of downloads will be low, and that the cost to develop a mobile app would be higher than the likely returns.

Those fears are not completely unfounded. Major news publishers, like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, have had great success with their standalone mobile apps. In addition to serving as a new revenue stream, these publishers have found that standalone mobile apps offer a great opportunity to increase loyalty. But smaller publishers, particularly local news publishers, have had less success.

Whether your online magazine would benefit from launching a standalone mobile app depends less on the size of your audience and more on your ability to creatively address the needs of your readers. If you’re willing to put in the effort to create a mobile app that serves your readers in new and innovative ways, then your online magazine will benefit from having a mobile app. If you launch a mobile app that’s stagnant, predictable, and rarely updated—or if your mobile app simply re-publishes the content readers can already find on your magazine’s website—then it’s unlikely your app will be a huge success.

How Do Mobile Apps Make Money?

Online magazine publishers can setup their mobile apps to generate revenue in a few different ways. The most common strategy is for publishers to make their apps free to download, with content that’s free to access. Revenue is generated by mobile ads, including banner ads that run at the top of app content. This strategy works well for publishers who have a large number of app downloads and those that rely primarily on revenue generated by display advertising. However, smaller online publishers will often struggle to generate a positive ROI with this approach.

Online magazines with successful subscription programs can try a different tact. Publishers can make their mobile apps free to download, but restrict most content to subscribers-only. To incentivize existing subscribers to download their mobile apps, publishers should make their apps ad-free. That provides readers with a better experience than they would find on the publisher’s website, which drives more app downloads.

For an example of what this looks like in the real world, check out The Guardian’s newly-designed mobile app. The subscriber-only app gives readers a way to scroll horizontally through the content in the newspaper’s various sections. Because readers can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the constant flow of news, The Guardian’s new app features a streamlined design with less content than subscribers would find on the paper’s website. That should hopefully provide users with a better overall experience.

Magazine publishers that opt to publish different types of content across multiple platforms might opt for a different approach as they look for the best way to monetize their mobile apps. Rather than restricting app access to subscribers-only, magazine publishers can consider doing what The Information has done and launching an entirely separate subscription product. In this case, the magazine would be charging existing subscribers an additional fee to access content through a mobile app. In order for this strategy to work, the magazine needs enough exclusive content to make the app subscription worthwhile. Doing the bare minimum and republishing older articles isn’t enough. However, if you can come up with enough exclusive content and innovative features for your app, then this is a strategy that can bring in significant revenue.

While it’s unlikely that your mobile app will ever achieve the same scale as your website or print editions, there can still be a significant upside to developing this type of product. To learn more about the steps involved in launching a standalone app, get in contact with our team at Web Publisher PRO and let us walk you through the process.