The New Republic takes a more measured approach to mobile
Not all publishers are eager to jump into the deep end of the mobile market, sinking major development dollars into splashy iPhone apps and glitzy iPad editions without a clear path to payback. The New Republic, for one, views mobile more as a longer-term strategic play than as a short-term mindshare grab.
“We’re not really interested in being a first mover,” says Rebecca Grossman-Cohen, The New Republic’s executive director of strategic marketing, who oversees TNR’s mobile efforts. “We have an iPhone app, but we’re taking a really measured and strategic approach for the rest of the efforts.” Those efforts include an iPad app, which could debut by the end of the year.
TNR and other publishers are trying to get their arms around a rapidly changing, fragmented market for smartphones, which offer advanced Internet browsing features and in-device apps that provide a new channel for content distribution. comScore says 49.1 million people in the United States owned smartphones during the three-month period from March to May, up 8.1 percent from the corresponding February period. RIM (maker of Blackberry) captured 41.7 percent share of U.S. smartphone subscribers, followed by Apple (24.4 percent), Microsoft (13.2 percent) and Google (13.0 percent).
Two streams of mobile investment
Grossman-Cohen defines TNR’s approach to mobile along two dimensions. First, the publisher is evaluating the most strategic way to present a replica of the print magazine on mobile platforms. Grossman-Cohen acknowledges one of the main challenges: Adapting TNR’s long-form, analytical journalism about American politics and culture to a small screen.
“We’re looking at ways to translate what we do best to mobile,” she says. “The answer is not obvious.”
The second focus of TNR’s mobile efforts involves the creation of what Grossman-Cohen calls “highly utilitarian, functional, interactive mobile products that enable users to have much more engaging experiences and enable advertisers to reach a much more engaged audience.”
This path could result in more data-driven products that extend TNR’s magazine or Web content. Speaking hypothetically, Grossman-Cohen offered the example of a mapping app that readers could use during an election to access data and analysis specific to a region or state. Such an app would likely require partnering with another publisher or data services company.
One piece of TNR’s mobile strategy is firmly in place: It won’t be giving content away for free. On the back of the online subscription model it introduced in April, TNR’s iPhone app (developed with PointAbout) is priced at $4.99.
“We were very cognizant of the fact we were pricing the app above what others were charging,” says Grossman-Cohen. “We know we have a product that people are willing to pay for.” She says the app has “done better than we expected,” without offering specific download numbers.
iPad version: Expect substance over style
The iPad version of TNR is not likely to follow the path of highly designed apps such as Wired, Time or GQ. Instead, it will emphasize the substance of its content.
“Our ideal is just to create an experience comparable to what you’d get with the magazine,” Grossman-Cohen says. “We don’t have a ton of video or imagery. That’s not what an average New Republic reader is looking for.”
For now, TNR will continue its measured pace into mobile, using a small army of summer interns to track trends and other developments.
“We’re digging pretty deep into what’s going on in the marketplace now,” says Grossman-Cohen. “We want to learn more about the way people are using the devices, hoping to capitalize on our strengths.
“We really want to be smart about making investments – not doing it just for the sake of being there and growing audience,” she adds. “We look for projects that we can pretty safely project a good return.”
The strategy seems to be working with TNR’s online efforts. The company says online traffic increased 45 percent and digital advertising revenue rose 125 percent in the first half of 2010 compared to the comparable 2009 period.