Using behavioural economics to convey the value of paid app subscriptions

Tips to better convert free users into subscribers

One key challenge subscription businesses face is that many users don’t perceive the value of paying. Google Play teamed up with The Behavioural Architects to explore how behavioural economics (BE) can be used to better communicate to free users the value of upgrading to paid app subscriptions. Continue reading “Using behavioural economics to convey the value of paid app subscriptions”

Creating an app: “What, like it’s hard?”

Let’s just say it’s not as easy as the bend and snap.

Anyone who knows me knows that app development has never really been “my thing.” I (sadly) enjoy talking about the Kardashian-Jenner clan, and I love fashion and binge-watching rom-com movies such as “Legally Blonde.” Just as most people don’t wake up one morning and think, I think I’ll go to law school today, as Prof. Callahan speculated about “Legally Blonde” heroine Elle Woods, I am not the type who just wakes up one morning and thinks, I really want to learn how to make an app! Yet, being the the stereotype-defiers that Elle and I are, both of us decided to give new ventures a try — even if others may scoff. Continue reading “Creating an app: “What, like it’s hard?””

On Black Friday, Home Depot saw more mobile traffic than desktop

Home Depot redesigned its mobile site and mobile app last year to offer more customized shopping experiences, and those efforts seem to be paying off in a big way. This Black Friday, the home improvement chain, which has over 2,200 stores across the U.S., saw mobile traffic outpace desktop traffic, said Prat Vemana, vp of online for Home Depot, declining to disclose specific sales numbers. Continue reading “On Black Friday, Home Depot saw more mobile traffic than desktop”

Matrix PowerWatch: The smartwatch powered by your body heat

I have a habit of losing my charger or forgetting to charge my devices. That’s why I like the idea behind the PowerWatch. Built by startup Matrix Industries, the PowerWatch is charged by your own body heat. As long as it is touching your skin, it needs no charge.

After almost six years of research, and a year after a successful Indiegogo campaign, Menlo Park, California-based Matrix Industries is shipping its PowerWatch. The technology behind the watch could pave the way for a new era of wearables that never run out of power, said Akram Boukai, CEO and cofounder of Matrix Industries, in an interview with VentureBeat. The PowerWatch sells for $170 on PowerWatch.com. It doesn’t look like much, as it is designed to conserve power.

“We went after people who don’t want fancy bells and whistles,” Boukai said. “As long as you are active and take maybe 10,000 steps a day, you don’t have to charge it.”

This smartwatch harvests energy from body heat, using a chip with a thermoelectric energy converter. Matrix engineered its advanced thermoelectric generators to operate with extreme efficiency. It created more efficient conversion circuitry to power the electronics and charge the internal battery. And its thermal design is built to harvest the small amount of heat available to the wearable device.

Above: PowerWatch uses a temperature difference to convert energy into electricity.

Image Credit: PowerWatch

Boukai said the outside of the wrist is a bad place to harvest energy because it doesn’t produce nearly as much heat as the head, the bottom of the feet, or even the inside of the wrist. The whole secret is maintaining a temperature difference between the part of the watch that touches your skin and the part on the other side. The process takes heat from your wrist and expels it from the other side of the watch.

The company found a semiconductor material that can conduct electricity but does not transfer heat easily. The team created the material by introducing defects into the material at a nano scale, or a billionth of a meter. This material produces a voltage when there is a temperature difference between the two sides of the chip.

When you take the watch off, the data is stored in memory, and the device goes to sleep. When you put it back on, the watch returns to where you left it. It can store data for two years in idle mode. It also has an always-on power meter that tells you how much electricity your body heat is producing. This means it can accurately calculate how many calories you are burning.

The device has aircraft-grade aluminum, and it syncs wirelessly with your smartphone. It automatically adjusts to the current time zone, tracks your steps, counts your calories, and measures your sleep. It is water-resistant up to 50 meters.

It essentially offers the same capabilities as battery-powered fitness wearables, without the hassle of chargers. The watch has no touchscreen, so you maneuver through the functions using two buttons.

Above: PowerWatch has no touchscreen.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Boukai said that the No. 1 reason consumers stop using wearables is that they take them off to charge them, and then they forget about them. You never need to take the PowerWatch off.

Boukai and his Caltech friend Douglas Tham cofounded Matrix Industries as a materials science startup in 2011. They saw that wearables had a problem with poor battery life and so they pivoted to making a smart watch and focused on shrinking down the size of the bulky electronics. The work they did to solve this problem has earned them 10 patents.

“Just a few years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible,” Boukai said.

Matrix Industries won first place at the Last Gadget Standing, a gadget competition at the Consumer Electronics Show. It raised $1.64 million in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in January and raised $3.5 million more in additional funding. All told, it took in more than $24 million in venture capital from backers such as Khosla Ventures. The company has 11 employees, and it currently creates the chips in-house in Menlo Park, though operations will move to China in future.

The PowerWatch is now shipping to the more than 12,000 people who preordered the device.

A premium version, the PowerWatch X with a color display from Sharp, is expected to ship before the end of the year.  Boukai expects to launch it on Amazon and at retailers next year. The full retail price will be $200.

“It’s a great feeling to have revenue for the first time,” Boukai said.

He said that Matrix is also researching self-charging ear buds and various kinds of devices, as other parts of the body can produce considerably more energy than the wrist.

Apple: iPhone X preorders are ‘off the charts’


(Reuters) — Apple Inc quashed concerns of muted demand for its iPhone X on Friday, saying preorders for the 10th anniversary phone were “off the charts”.

The company’s shares, which have fallen steadily since it announced in early September it would launch two iPhones within two months, rose nearly 3 percent in response.

Pre-orders for the much-anticipated 10th anniversary phone started from 12.01 am PT on Friday.

“We can see from the initial response, customer demand is off the charts,” an Apple spokeswoman told Reuters.

“We’re working hard to get this revolutionary new product into the hands of every customer who wants one, as quickly as possible.”

The company’s website showed delivery times pushed out to five to six weeks for the phone, compared to an initial plan of Nov. 3.

IPhone X’s launch follows weeks of concerns among analysts about the production of the new phone, which for the first time includes new facial identification software to replace the fingerprint used on previous phones.

Analysts have cautioned that production of the phone was below target, due to difficulties in producing the TrueDepth camera system, which houses sophisticated cameras and sensors making it possible to unlock the phone using Face ID.

Wireless carriers in the United States and Canada have reported slow third-quarter customer upgrades.

Major promotions on the iPhone X from U.S. carriers have yet to materialize, and in some cases, the offers have been even less generous than what was available for the iPhone 8, said Walter Piecyk, an analyst at BTIG in a research note on Thursday. The base price for the phone is $999.

He noted that Sprint Corp’s iPhone X promotion of $350 in savings for trading in an eligible device was the most aggressive but still lower than what it offered for last year’s launch of the iPhone 7.

However, electronics retailer Best Buy Co is charging shoppers an extra $100, if they wish to buy an unactivated iPhone X outright.

If customers order the phone on an installment billing plan, they will pay the same price charged by Apple and the carriers.

“Our prices reflect the fact that no matter a customer’s desired plan or carrier, or whether a customer is on a business or personal plan, they are able to get a phone the way they want at Best Buy,” Best Buy spokeswoman Carly Charlson said.

“Our customers have told us they want this flexibility and sometimes that has a cost.”

Wired is launching a Progressive Web App to boost page speed

Tech publisher Wired is revamping its mobile site in an effort to improve page speed.

Today, Wired is introducing a so-called Progressive Web App, which is a Google-backed protocol that lets web developers build mobile sites that load quickly like an app. Wired plans to make it available to a small number of users for about a month before rolling it out to all of its users, said Zack Tollman, Wired’s app architect. Unlike publisher apps for iOS or Android, PWAs are accessed through the open web like a regular website and don’t have to be downloaded. Once Wired’s PWA is rolled out to all users, Wired.com will function as a PWA for anyone who accesses the site through Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers.

Wired believes a PWA will increase its page speed, which will get users to view more articles and result in more impressions per session. So, it deployed two web developers to work full time and four product managers to spend part of their time on the project for three months. The publisher is also looking at building products on top of the PWA, since PWAs allow for swiping interactivity, which opens the door to products like Snapchat-like mobile cards. That’s all down the road: The initial version rolling out is the same design and functionality as Wired’s mobile site. About 70 percent of Wired’s 11 million unique visitors last month came from mobile, according to comScore.

Even though Google announced PWAs in May 2016, Wired had to use its finite resources — it usually has six engineers and web developers working on its site — to finish other tech projects before it could create a PWA. For example, in the second half of 2016, Wired adopted HTTPS to make its site more secure and HTTP/2, which is supposed to improve page-load time by compressing data for ad servers.

Other publishers that have adopted PWAs are The Washington Post, the Guardian, The Weather Company, Forbes and Financial Times. Google did not reply to an interview request for this story. Wired is the first Condé Nast property to roll out a PWA.

“I imagine [other Condé Nast titles] will do PWA; we are just ahead of the curve a bit,” Tollman said. “There is a general excitement around new technology that just works for our brand, so we like to be experimenting with these things as soon as possible.”

PWAs are touted for their speed, but they have drawbacks. For one, they work on Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox browsers, but not on Apple’s Safari. Similar to how Apple restricted ad targeting in Safari, denying PWAs is a way for the device-selling company to play its card against ad giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google.

Making PWA-powered websites feel like an app also takes a lot of technical work, and monitoring another platform can be time-consuming, said Salah Zalatimo, head of product and tech at Forbes. Another publishing exec, requesting anonymity, expects PWAs to eventually become the standard mobile web experience for publishers in four to five years. The delay in adoption is because most publishers’ back-end technology is too crappy to overhaul their sites in the near future, the source said.

Last year, Condé Nast integrated the underlying tech stacks of all its brands to operate under one platform, which should make it easier for other Condé Nast sites to adopt PWAs, Tollman said.

PWAs cache content, which speeds up the loading of ads and content. But users shouldn’t notice any difference to the site’s overall design, and salespeople shouldn’t see any change to the inventory they sell, said Robbie Sauerberg, gm of advertising at Wired Media Group, noting that Wired’s sales team hasn’t had any concerns about its mobile site changing.

Another publishing source, however, had a different experience after launching a PWA. For this publisher, reworking its mobile site led to apprehension among some sales reps.

“Going to PWA means refactoring your site, which generally gives sales teams anxiety and fear,” said the source, under the condition of anonymity. “The anxiety is understandable, as it is a drastic change.”

Photo via Wired

The post Wired is launching a Progressive Web App to boost page speed appeared first on Digiday.

Taking the guesswork out of paid user acquisition

A simple tool to estimate the right budget to grow your audience

Developers often want to know whether they should spend money on user acquisition, and what the key factors are to help inform their decision.

There are many useful tools and models to help with this question. After working closely with our key partners in South East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, and spending many hours testing, my team created a simple but useful calculator to help you answer this question.

First, I’ll describe the inputs you need to use the calculator and explain how the results can help developers make better-informed decisions about paid user acquisition. I’ll also share an example of how one developer used this lifetime value (LTV) calculator and generated significant value for their business.

Before I continue, however, a word of caution. This LTV calculator — or indeed any LTV calculator — is simply a guide to assist in making decisions about paid user acquisition. It helps you predict the LTV you’ll see from acquired users and therefore what spend is sensible to achieve this return. The model makes assumptions about the impact of investment, CPI, organic spin-offs, payer rate, engagement rate, and portfolio effect. These assumptions aren’t guaranteed or confirmed. Additionally, estimates of buyer rate, ARPPU, and advertising revenue per user will need to be set based on your app’s data. Where I can, I’ll show you where to find those numbers.

OK, so that keeps the folks in the legal department happy, just one more note before we jump into the real details. The calculator uses US ($USD) as the default currency, but you can easily substitute your local currency. The important thing to remember is to make sure all the data you use is specific to the country or region you want to target and relevant to your app and its type or genre. It may seem obvious, but don’t use US figures for a casual game to plan a campaign for a messaging app targeting India.

As you read the next section, you might want to download the LTV Calculator to see how it uses these inputs. You’ll notice that the download includes the option to request a member of the app marketing team to contact you. This team’s job is to help app developers create and execute online marketing strategies and can help you determine the best values to use in the calculator.

LTV calculator inputs

Investment: This is how much to spend on user acquisition. If you plan to use universal app campaigns, start with a daily budget 50-times your target CPI. This level of investment will help AdWords’ machine learning algorithms optimize. So, with a $2.50 CPI target your daily budget would be $125 or approximately $3.7k per month. Another way to view investment is to set it so that you acquire a statistically relevant sample size, enabling you to understand user engagement and LTV with confidence, the goal should be approximately 5000 users.

Cost Per Install (CPI): This is the cost of generating one install. Note that CPIs vary by country as well as app and game genre or category.

Organic spin-off (K-factor): Studies have shown that paid installs can boost organic installs (organic growth) because of spillover from word of mouth and social sharing as well as installs from any listing in a store top apps chart. The K-factor measures the number of organic installs generated by each paid install, with 0 indicating that paid installs generate no additional organic installs.

Buyer rate: The percentage of the user base that makes in-app purchases. You can find the rate from your Play Console: Select your app, open User Acquisition, click on Acquisition reports, and select Buyers.

Buyer rate multiple: This variable represents the multiple by which users from a paid acquisition campaign become payers compared to users acquired organically. To illustrate, if 1% of organic users made purchases in the app while 2% of paid users made purchases, the buyer rate multiple is 2. Well targeted acquisition should achieve a multiple greater than 1 while more generic, mass-market targeting may result in a multiple of less than 1.

Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU): This is the average of the revenue expected from each user who makes at least one purchase between their first and last use of the app. You can find the rate for your app from the Play Console revenue and buyer data reports: Select your app, open Financial Reports, and on the Buyers page select ARPPU.

Average advertising revenue per user: This is the revenue you generate from showing ads to a user over their lifetime and should include revenue from rewarded and non-rewarded ads. Remember, in line with the other figures you’re using, to include ad revenue from the country or region you are running the model for. The ‘Ad Revenue Calculation’ section of the model is designed to help you calculate this value. To get started, you’ll need to access your advertising dashboard: find the total ad revenue generated for a month and divide it by the number of active users in that month. You then need your retention figures for day 1, 7, 14, 28, 60, and 90; these can be found using a third-party analytics tool or Google Analytics for Firebase. The model uses the 90-day value, but you can substitute the 28-day or 60-day values, if you want to be conservative in your calculations.

Engagement rate multiplier: This multiplier reflects how much more engaged users acquired from paid installs are compared to users acquired organically. To illustrate, if users acquired from a paid campaign stick around longer, that is they show improved retention, you could expect to see a higher multiple. Well targeted acquisition should achieve a multiple greater than 1 while more generic, mass-market targeting may result in a multiple less than 1.

Portfolio effect multiple: If you’ve a portfolio of apps, that is, more than 1 app, a paid install may generate additional value by driving the installation and generation of revenue from other apps in the portfolio. Use of tools, such as house ads, would help maximize this multiple.

Using the LTV calculator

Once you’ve gathered the numbers relevant to your app and the region you’re going to promote it in, plug them into the calculator. In my example, I’m working with a campaign investment of US$5,000, have a K-factor of 2, buyer rate multiple of 1.5, and engagement multiple of 1.3, but no portfolio multiple. The ARPPU and ad revenue figures I pulled from the Play Console.

Example figures plugged into the LTV calculator.

In this example, return of advertising spend (ROAS) is over 100% so a paid acquisition campaign should have a positive return.

And the result? I can see that a paid campaign alone won’t deliver a positive return. However, organic spin-off will pick up additional users and revenue that lifts the return on advertising spend (ROAS) to a healthy 110%.

In general, using the calculator as a decision-making tool is simple. If ROAS is over 100% you should return a profit from a paid acquisition campaign. Less than 100% and you probably won’t see a benefit. In the example, we have a ROAS of 110% so it makes sense to go ahead with a campaign.

However, even if the calculator returns a positive result — unless you’ve been testing extensively to determine your organic spin-off and other multiples — it’s worth running a test campaign to confirm your assumptions.

If the calculator says that paid acquisition isn’t worthwhile, you can adjust the CPI to find the level that offers a return. However, rather than chasing a lower CPI, you may be better served by looking to improve your app’s fundamentals, such as retention, monetization, and social functionality (virality). Once these metrics have improved, look again at the value of a paid acquisition campaign.

The LTV calculator in action

Not Doppler, an Australian games developer, used the LTV calculator to decide whether paid user acquisition made sense for Crash of Cars.

The calculator provided Not Doppler with a clear understanding of the total revenue (both from ads and in-app purchases) they generated from a user over their lifetime engagement with Crash of Cars. While the calculator aims to answer the question of whether paid user acquisition is likely to be beneficial, for Not Doppler it also dispelled several misconceptions.

Misconception 1: User acquisition is expensive

“High CPIs had been an initial barrier to entry for us, given we questioned the feasibility of UA with our ad-heavy business model. Through education and controlled testing we were able to profitably acquire a substantial volume of users in the US at CPIs of less than US$1.” — Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Misconception 2: All users are equal

When Not Doppler ran paid (non-incentivized) campaigns they saw a higher quality of user compared to their organic acquisitions.

We saw that the paid pre-qualified users who installed and opened Crash of Cars via an ad were 1.8-times more likely to spend in the game versus those who came in organically.”- Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Misconception 3: Calculating ad revenue LTV

With in-app advertising playing a significant role in Not Doppler’s monetization strategy, it was important that they correctly calculated the average revenue generated per user over their lifetime.

The Model allowed us to better understand the ad revenue we generated from showing users ads in our game over their lifetime. By looking at the relationship between ad revenue per daily active users and retention in the US we were able to calculate the revenue we generated from ads over a 30, 60, and 90 day period.” — Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Misconception 4: Organic spin-off

Soft launching Crash of Cars allowed Not Doppler to calculate the effect of organic spin-off (K-factor) from the game. Interestingly, Not Doppler made a deliberate effort to avoid Crash of Cars appearing in the store top charts and generating organic installs from there. This was because they wanted to discover what percent of additional installs were generated by paid traffic through social sharing, word-of-mouth, or other forms of user driven, unpaid promotion.

Through controlled testing we were able to measure the incremental lift we gained in organic users through paid marketing.” — Jason Daskalopoulos, Senior Business & Marketing Manager, Not Doppler

Try it yourself

Wondering what all this might mean for your user acquisition? There is a simple way to find out, download the LTV Calculator and plug in your app’s numbers! If you’d like to find out more about paid user acquisition or have any further questions about the blog or model, use the “I would like the app marketing team to contact me” option when downloading the LTV calculator and someone from my team will get in touch.

New to using ads to promote your app?

If you haven’t advertised your app or game before, we provide a simple way to get started with Google AdWords’ universal app campaigns. You can set up a universal app campaign in the Google Play Console in a few clicks. Google automatically optimizes your campaign to find users who are most likely to install your app at your target cost per install across Google’s networks including Google Play, Search, YouTube, and the Google Display Network. When you fill in the form for the lifetime value calculator, tick the box if you want to hear from an AdWords expert about setting up and running universal app campaigns for your app.

What do you think?

Do you have any comments on calculating LTV? Continue the discussion in the comments below or tweet using the hashtag #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.


Taking the guesswork out of paid user acquisition was originally published in Google Play Apps & Games on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How to hold on to your app’s subscribers

Insights to help you nurture your subscribers and make it easy for them to stay engaged

In the US, it costs over $2, on average, to acquire an app or game install on Android (LeanPlum data). Acquiring a loyal user (someone who opens the app more than three times) can cost more than $4. Given the time and money spent acquiring active users and subscribers, making sure you keep them is vital. Continue reading “How to hold on to your app’s subscribers”

Onet revamps mobile news app with voice control feature

“This new app had to embrace the most common needs of mobile news media users: breaking news, quality content, fast load, error proof, and data that was planned efficiently for video consumption. We asked our users how, when, and why they were using our app. Part of that research revealed that our audience was often unable to consume our content because of their changing environments. Morning commuting that may involve subways, driving a car, or walking resulted in a news consumption experience that was not seamless. We knew that our new app needed to be hands free, and so we decided that our “wow” moment would be voice controls and audio consumption of news and articles.”

Read full story on INMA Ideas Blog

How the Skimm Became a Must-Read for Millennials

“It might be helpful to think of the Skimm as a millennial-friendly update to Henry Luce’s original Time magazine, combining an earnest journalistic comprehensiveness with in-jokes. As the name implies, the Skimm won’t satisfy any deep intellectual curiosity; it will help you avoid seeming uninformed at a cocktail party, though. Each blast consists of news summaries and links about politics, business, culture, and sometimes sports (under the heading “Balls”). It’s a throwback, especially at a time when new-media outlets such as BuzzFeed are tailoring content to readers based on interests or identities in the hope that it goes viral on Facebook and Twitter. The Skimm has a website and Facebook page, too, but the vast majority of readers consume it as an e-mail. There is no customization. There are no hot takes.”

Read full story on Bloomberg

Six years later, the Financial Times is back in the App Store. (Apple still won’t get a cut of subscriptions.)

“Six years is a long time in product,” said Martin Fallon, the Financial Times’ product manager for apps. Six years ago was the last time that the FT’s main app was in Apple’s App Store. In 2011, the company introduced a web app and, a couple months later, pulled its dedicated iOS apps because, reportedly, it did not want to give Apple a 30 percent cut of in-app subscription revenue and wanted more information about subscribers than Apple was willing to provide.

More than half a decade later, you can find the FT app in the App Store once again (alongside some of the company’s other apps, like FTChinese, that never left.) Apple will not, however, be getting a cut of subscription revenues; as The Wall Street Journal reported Monday:

The new iOS app will therefore only be accessible to existing FT subscribers. New readers won’t be able to purchase subscriptions from within the app itself, but must instead do so from the FT’s website before logging in.

This model means the FT can avoid giving Apple a cut of subscription revenue and will allow it to collect payment information and other valuable data directly from its subscribers. Spotify and other subscription-based services have taken a similar approach in recent years.

“We identified an iOS app as a key way to drive engagement,” Fallon told me. “We saw that readers who used our existing apps were much more engaged than those who didn’t. We also saw that we had a much higher app adoption rate on Android, where we had a native app, than on iOS.” (Engagement became a bigger part of the discussion in 2015, when the FT created an audience engagement team.) He also mentioned other benefits of an iOS app over a web app: Improved offline reading, persistent login, easier sharing, and — ultimately — push notifications and automatic update downloads, things that readers have been asking for but that weren’t possible with the web app.

“Another motivation is simple — customers asked us for it,” Fallon said.

Right now, the FT’s iOS app is aimed only at existing subscribers. When you open it, you’re prompted to sign in; if you don’t, you can see a homepage but can’t read a single story. The web app will continue to exist for now, but the FT intends to move the majority of its readers over to the iOS app. (As of Monday, I couldn’t find anything on the FT’s site to alert readers to the existence of the iOS app; it was still only promoting the web app.)

The Financial Times has nearly 870,000 total paying subscribers (up 9 percent from this time last year); of those, 666,000 are digital-only subscriptions (up 13 percent from this time last year). More than 50 percent of the FT’s digital subscribers already use its apps, and with the launch of the iOS app, that percentage is expected to increase.

In 2017, the one thing every digital-native news outlet needs is a newsletter (not an app)

Newsletter > Apple News > podcast > app: In terms of how digital-native news outlets get their information out, the newsletter wins. That’s according to a digital news fact sheet from Pew Research Center, released Monday. It looks at 36 news outlets that originated online and have at least 10 million unique visitors per month (list of outlets, from 247sports.com to Vox.com, here).

Sites do not appear to be increasingly building native apps: The percentage of top digital-native news sites with an app remained steady between 2016 and 2017, at 61 percent:

This does not appear to include responsive sites: “For mobile apps, researchers searched the Google Play and iOS App Store for each site,” according to the fact sheet’s methodology.

Other publishing methods are more popular:

Fully 97 percent of these outlets offer newsletters, and 92 percent have an official presence on Apple News. Three-quarters, meanwhile, release podcasts and 61 percent allow comments on their articles.

The full fact sheet is here. Pew also released two other new fact sheets — one on public broadcasting, one on Hispanic and African American news media — on Monday. (These fact sheets, with staggered releases, have taken the place of what was once Pew’s giant annual State of the News Media report.)

The Toronto Star, “surprised by low numbers,” is shutting down Star Touch, its expensive tablet app

The Toronto Star announced on Monday that, “after much research,” it’s shutting down Star Touch, the expensive ($23 million invested!) tablet-only app it launched in 2015. The app’s shutdown is accompanied by layoffs of 29 full-time employees and one part-time employee.

“The overall numbers of readers and advertising volumes are significantly lower than what the company had forecast and than what are required to make it a commercial success,” John Boynton, president and CEO of TorStar and publisher of the Star, wrote in a memo to employees. (The previous publisher, John Cruickshank, stepped down last year after it became clear Star Touch was underperforming.)

A Star spokesman told The Globe and Mail that “the tablet’s monthly audience peaked at 80,000 unique readers, a small percentage of the Star’s monthly online readership, which hovers around 550,000 in the Greater Toronto Area alone.” It had originally aimed to be at 180,000 daily users by the end of 2016; it was at only 26,000 by March of last year.

Star Touch shuts down July 31 and will be replaced by a new universal app that, well, sounds as if it does what any news app should do now and it’s crazy the Touch app didn’t do these things: “operates both on smartphones and tablets…offers more of the features that you, our readers, have told us you want: breaking news, constant updates, more content, easy searches and navigation and the ability to share items much more easily on social media.”

“We need to simplify our business and having three downloadable apps, namely a tablet app, a mobile app and PDF, confuses consumers and is resource intensive, complex and costly. Having just two apps will simplify this,” Boynton wrote in his memo, printed in full at Canadaland along with a memo from the Star’s editor-in-chief, Michael Cooke. (The two apps will be the universal one and this print replica.)

Star Touch was supported by advertising and entirely free to readers. It was modeled on Montreal’s French-language La Presse+, which is digital-only via iPad app (and website) Monday through Friday and has a print edition on Saturdays (though that too is expected to go away later this year).

La Presse “remains, by accounts as recently as last week, a success,” editor-in-chief Cooke noted in his memo. “Throughout the diligent work before, at and after launch, Star executives and managers, and really all of us, knew there was significant risk that the Montreal experience might not translate to the [Greater Toronto Area] — arguably the toughest, most saturated media market in North America.”

Ken Doctor wrote about Star Touch’s “one time a day” model for Nieman Lab in 2015:

Star Touch, like La Presse+, won’t be a breaking news product. Readers get one edition a day, seven days a week. The breaking news function, The Star believes, remains with free smartphone and desktop web; Star Touch will link to The Star’s site for live files. Why? Research showing readers want editions — the old Economist bookends theory — and, in any event, the complexity of tablet presentation would require even more labor for a continuously produced product.

While the Star gradually built other updating features into the Touch app — a “live news” panel for real-time updates; breaking news notifications — it clearly wasn’t enough to convince readers that a tablet app updated once a day was the best way to get their news.

Canada’s Postmedia also made a bet on tablet editions which it shut down in 2015. It announced last week that it is launching new mobile apps for the National Post and the Financial Post, as well as a new digital replica of the National Post.

Star Touch closing notice from this tweet.

Bleacher Report gets people to spend 5 minutes on its app each day

Speed tweaks and a new look help Bleacher Report keep users glued to its app.

To speed up load times, over the past year Bleacher Report started natively uploading tweets, GIFs and Instagram posts within its app, rather than pulling them from the mobile web. For now, Bleacher Report’s articles still load from the mobile web, but the publisher is looking into adopting Google AMP for its in-app articles to get another speed boost. In April, the sports publisher also launched its own mobile video player and redesigned its app to include tabs and focus more on national sports coverage.

Bleacher Report users, on average, spent 151 minutes in its app per month this past year, according to comScore data. This was the highest among major sports publishers, as the top five sports apps in terms of time spent (excluding Bleacher Report) averaged 82 minutes per user per month.

“The redesign was the last piece of a lot of ‘under the hood’ work that we’ve done,” said Chris Nguyen, Bleacher Report’s vp of product. “We’ve invested our energy to make sure we can control the [mobile] experience.”

Bleacher Report is investing in mobile video product at a time when both mobile and video are rapidly growing. With mobile eating digital media, speed has become increasingly important in keeping users’ attention, which has led many publishers to adopt fast-loading features like Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP. To boost speed and reduce vendor costs, Bleacher Report replaced video vendors Ooyala and Akamai with its own mobile video player.

Since the redesign, Bleacher Report’s in-app videos load within 1.2 seconds, on average, on both Android and iOS, according to video analytics firm Conviva. Per Conviva, the median video load time for publishers is 5.6 seconds on Android and 4.2 seconds on iOS. Bleacher Report declined to provide year-over-year statistics since it switched analytics vendors with the redesign.

The video player has been frequently used since the redesign. One-third of the app’s users use one of the app’s new tabs, Fire (pictured below), which features silent autoplay videos on a loop, similar to the now-defunct Vine.

Bleacher Report’s old app design is on the left, and the new tab-based design is on the right.

Users who visit Fire stay in the app for 24 percent longer than non-Fire users, said Nguyen, who declined to share raw numbers. In its first month, users watched 150 million video loops on Fire, which lets people quickly scroll through the top sports highlights throughout the nation. Most of the app’s other features focus predominantly on the user’s selected favorite teams.

“We view every tab like it is its own app within the app,” Nguyen said. “We wanted to create an addictive habit around something that isn’t your team.”

About 3 million people use Bleacher Report’s app each month, according to comScore, which means that it still has a long way to go before it catches up with ESPN’s app audience of more than 13 million monthly visitors.

“We might not have as large of breadth,” Nguyen said. “But our engagement is really strong.”

The post Bleacher Report gets people to spend 5 minutes on its app each day appeared first on Digiday.

The Wall Street Journal is killing its What’s News app (but bringing lessons from it to its main app)

The Wall Street Journal on Thursday said it was shutting down its standalone What’s News digest app — one of the few survivors of a period when top publishers were launching secondary mobile apps aimed at reaching different audiences and incubating innovations harder to execute behind the outlet’s primary homescreen icon. The Journal is currently in the process of revamping its main news app, and it plans to introduce features it developed for What’s News into the main app.

The What’s News app — named for the Journal’s daily front-page briefs — launched in the summer of 2015 as the paper’s first mobile-only product. The app features a swipe-heavy design with a select 10 news stories at a time (plus some opinion). It’s updated regularly throughout each weekday, puts stories in quick summary form, uses custom headlines distinct from those on WSJ.com, and allows users to follow specific news topics. Access to the app was included as part of a subscription to the Journal. The Journal said the app had been downloaded more than 110,000 times; it will cease publishing on June 30.

Prior to the app’s launch, deputy editor-in-chief Matt Murray told my colleague Shan Wang that the What’s News app was the result of a concerted effort from the Journal’s news desk to become mobile-first.

“We were simply doing what all journalists are now doing, which is thinking about digital journalism, what our readers want, and how you experience news on your phone,” he said at the time. “Somewhere we made the connection to the news digest already in our papers, What’s News.”

Now the Journal is incorporating those lessons into its main app as part of a larger overhaul. In an interview earlier this month, before the paper announced its plans to to shut the What’s News app, mobile editor Phil Izzo said it was looking toward the What’s News app for inspiration as the Journal thought about introducing more flexible ways to indicate story hierarchy and package stories in the app.

Other news organizations, such as The New York Times, also introduced secondary news apps only to pare them back. (It’s a common strategy in businesses seeking to stoke innovation — separate and reintegrate.) In 2014, the Times launched the millennial-seeking NYT Now and a standalone Opinion app. It quickly shuttered the Opinion app before moving NYT Now to a free model, eventually eliminating it altogether last summer.

The Times of London also last year closed its secondary app aimed at international audiences after only 10 months of operation. The Washington Post still maintains two separate mobile apps (one “Classic” app, with the usual list of headlines, and one with a more swipe-friendly, forward-looking interface).

The Journal still operates a handful of other standalone apps, including the WSJ Live video app (though it hasn’t been updated since 2015) and WSJ City, an app that shares the same design as What’s News, but exclusively covers London-based business news.

But the Journal’s core focus now is its main mobile app — starting with iOS. Earlier this month, the Journal introduced rich push alerts and added the functionality to follow specific reporters in the app and receive a push notification every time they publish a story — useful for readers who want to pay close attention to a reporter covering their industry. (The paper had introduced a following feature — for topics and companies, not reporters — in the What’s News app last year. The Journal said those who used it spent 20 percent more time in the app than those who didn’t.)

In addition to redesigning the main feed to add more flexibility, the Journal would like to add increased personalization to the app, product director Jordan Sudy said.

“It’s already personalized with content that you save and the push alerts you’re receiving by following certain authors, but we want to be able to actually have some sort of feed or what have you in the app that will surface that content to you in a digestible way,” Sudy said. “Everybody sees the content that’s been chosen by the editors, but [we want to] also make the app for you — but not doing it in a binary way. Right now, it’s all the same app for everybody — the Times sort of does the same thing — or you have these aggregators where it’s the same app for everybody, but aggregated personalized content. We want to make sure we do both.”

The Journal’s personalization capabilities aren’t there to enable that quite yet, but Izzo said it is in the process of laying the groundwork by introducing better metadata through improved article tagging.

While previous redesigns were introduced as big wholesale changes (I wrote about WSJ.com’s 2015 redesign, for example) the Journal is now focusing on a more iterative process that will see lots of smaller incremental changes, Izzo said. He declined to provide a timeline for when the Journal would introduce additional features or when its current cycle would finish.

“We’re thinking of multiple iterations for as long as the phone is the primary delivery system for news, and then whatever comes next, then that’s going to be the thing that we’re thinking of,” Izzo said. “The whole point of making it an iterative process is that we don’t just focus on this intensely for a year and then we go back to doing something else. That’s going to create the same problem we had in the past. What we’re trying to do is set up a place where we can make changes. We’re never going to be a tech company. We’re never going to be Google or Facebook. But what we can do is have more control over our product and more control over what we put out.”

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