An open message to the Guardian newspaper…

The Guardian iPhone app

The Guardian jumps on the mobile apps bandwagon!

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.

About Andy Bovingdon

As VP of Product Marketing at Bango, my goal is to make sure we create the best products for app stores to deliver direct carrier billing.
This entry was posted in mobile payment, mobile web and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to An open message to the Guardian newspaper…

  1. mobanon says:

    I think you’ve missed the point of releasing an iPhone App as well as having a mobile site – brands get an opportunity to communicate with millions of iTunes users who might not otherwise interact with them on mobile.

    Apps and sites have an important roles to play in the current mobile market, both commercially and in terms of reach. Whether significant numbers of people will pay £2.39 is another question.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    You hit on an interesting point that many iPhone apps are nothing more than advertising – a marketing device to reach iTunes users. Other than awareness the Guardian app adds little that their website does not already provide. From a marketing perspective it would be interesting to see if they get the return they are looking for on the investment they have made.

    Ultimately building and maintaining an app is not the right way to do this though. Apple should provide a “bookmark” distribution mechanism where a brand pays Apple to distribute a web bookmark via iTunes. The consumer can browse them, share them and click to add them as an icon on their iPhone – just like an app. The brand gets the awareness for their website without all the complexity of building apps. For a phone that majors on web browsing there are few ways to discover great sites – this pushes people down the app route.

    My main point is not the validity of releasing an app in general but that this is not the correct monetization method for newspapers on mobile. Paying for a one time app download is a distraction – papers should be looking to simple news subscriptions and small payments for access to premium content or full stories. People already buy the hard copy for the news so it’s not that much of a stretch to buy the same via the phone. If I already subscribe, then a simple access code can give me mobile access included.

  3. niklasa says:

    I do agree with what you say but the app includes offline reading so it does add some value compared to just browsing their mobile web site.

    On top of that I can see the app getting push notifications of breaking news, also a valueadd apart from browsing.

  4. Agreed Niklasa, thanks for the reply. It is a shame though that publishers are forced to build an application when those capabilities should be a standard feature of the mobile browser. Push notification and news summaries can already be done on many handsets using RSS for example, but it could do with being a little more integrated with the browser and easier to use.

    I suspect that we will see a lot of browser advances during 2010 making all this a lot easier. Opera and SkyFire have both made massive strides during 2009 and with mobile FireFox due this year the competition is going to seriously hot up.

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