Charging for mobile app downloads is not the answer to declining ad revenues…
This week saw one of the leading UK newspapers, the Guardian, launch a new iPhone app. I know there is nothing interesting in that alone, as all the newspapers have been jumping on that crowded bandwagon. But unlike other newspapers the Guardian chose to charge people to download the app – a significant change from the standard model of free access. While it is evident that the Guardian is trying to capitalize on iPhone users apparent willingness to pay for apps, it does raise questions about whether those same users would equally pay for the actual content rather than the packaging? And will more iPhone users view Guardian news through an app that is launched from a familiar icon than accessing the news by entering the Guardian website URL in their browser? Are iPhone users so foolish that they would rather pay to click a little icon than get full, free access to the news through the main website – is entering a URL that hard?
The Guardian online is one of the most popular websites and their web team should be congratulated on delivering such a great web experience from a mobile phone. With ad revenues currently in question it is obvious why the Guardian and other newspapers are so keen to explore other revenue streams. Since iPhone apps are the flavour of the month it is easy to deliver one at a cost rather than free – but this is a lazy move that does not address the real revenue problems the paper is facing. A one time payment for a simple iPhone app is not going to resolve their ongoing advertising problems, especially while the very same news remains free for their smarter mobile readers via the website.
Perhaps the Guardian could not work out how to implement a simple payment scheme that would work for mobile readers – charging for an iPhone app appears an easy step, but the costs of maintaining an application greatly outweigh the benefits in this instance, especially if they also launch it on other handsets (they must have more readers with a BlackBerry surely). Newspapers like the Guardian need to realise that charging to read content on a mobile phone is simple with the right billing platform – certainly easier and more cost effective than building and maintaining apps. With a solution like Bango Payment it is already possible to charge per article or to access areas for a period of time or for an ongoing daily, weekly or monthly subscription.
So my message to the Guardian and other newspapers, with such flexibility available to bill mobile content and services, it’s time to charge if you think your content is worth it.