Commentary

Newspapers' Killer Apps

NYT-iphoneIs mobile the newspaper industry's new savior? Martin Nisenholtz, who leads the New York Times Company's digital operations, told Bloomberg Tuesday that the beleaguered newspaper is likely to begin charging for acccess to news on mobile devices as a precursor to doing so on the Web.

That follows earlier remarks this month by new USA Today Publisher David Hunke in which he expressed regret the company didn't start by charging for its iPhone app, offered as a free download. He also said the paper hopes to expand revenue from mobile phones and portable devices such as the Kindle. Access to USA Today's main Web site will remain free.

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The newspapers' mobile hopes appear slender. Mobile commerce is still in its infancy and subscribers so far are still only paying for things like games and ringtones. And if the Times and USA Today start charging subscriptions for their respective iPhone apps, downloads will dry up quickly. Charging for mobile access will be especially difficult if newspapers continue to also offer free access to their Web sites.

That's not mention competition from news aggregation sites or apps via mobile. Ray Richmond of The Wrap this week pointed to News Fuse USA -- a 99 cent iPhone app that includes content from 27 news sources including the Times, USA Today, CNN, the BBC and the Associated Press -- as the kiss of death for print journalism. "Would I pay 20 bucks a month for News Fuse? Maybe. Would anybody else? I doubt it," he concludes.

Even if the Times and USA Today pulled out of something like News Fuse to charge separately for their content, there would still be 25 other high profile news outlets for readers to choose from. For 99 cents. Newspapers should expand their mobile offerings and experiment with different business models in the process. But they shouldn't expect the mobile frontier will be the promised land for paid content after failing to charge for subscriptions online.

2 comments about "Newspapers' Killer Apps".
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  1. Edward Barrera from Adotas, June 24, 2009 at 4:19 p.m.

    What I would like to know is how much revenue the Times earned from Kindle subscriptions. I think that when mobile's interface becomes better, it will prompt people to move from ereaders.

    As for the aggregators, top publishers should just restrict access. Put no value on your work and no one will even think of paying for it elsewhere.

  2. Dayo Adefila from Insight Communications limited, June 27, 2009 at 6:44 p.m.

    Interesting to discover this connundrum newspapers put themselves is not restricted to the US and Europe perhaps as I can say in Nigeria we have a similar situation. Most print papers migrated online some years back and to lure visitors ensured free access to content thus executing the equation of
    More visitors = More advertising Premium

    Now, in a bid to extend revenue streams, at least one of them, Punch Newspaper, has restricted access to its online newswebsite in exchange for subscription model for both online and mobile access.

    Thing is, people like me need lots more incentives (perhaps more convenience) to subscribe and rather buy the print version (when we can) or visit other news websites. Porters forces would have an interesting time here
    @ what is the power of the buyers?
    @what is the power of the seller (s)? Can sellers converge and dictate? In this era of democratized media...interesting.

    Great article.

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