WashPo Finally Brings App To Market (Then It Breaks)

Washington Post iphone app

The Washington Post this week rolled out its first paid app, offering an annual subscription for $1.99 that lets users save an unlimited number of articles for offline reading and customize their own news. It's about time. The Post follows other publishers including The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and CNN that already charge for their apps. (The Post-owned online magazine Slate also introduced a paid iPhone app this week.)

As newspapers and other traditional media companies desperately search for new ways to monetize digital content, launching a premium app should be a no-brainer. If high-profile news brands like the Washington Post can't get iPhone owners to cough up $1.99 for an app version of the paper then they should pack it anyway. showed this week that people are willing to pay for digital content they want. Its At Bat 2010 app sells for $15 and overnight became the top-grossing title in the App Store. And paidContent $3.99 (£2.39) reported that The Guardian had 101,457 downloads of its iPhone app in the first 10 weeks at $3.99 (£2.39).

True, only a handful of apps can command a $15 price and still move, but $2 shouldn't be a deal breaker for Post readers with an iPhone. The leverage for publishers lies in apps still typically offering a much better user experience than a corresponding mobile site, worth paying a small premium for. People are also more accustomed to paying for extra services or content on mobile than the PC-based Web as well.

The New York Times' iPhone app is still free but that's expected to change since mobile access will be included in the metered model the newspaper will introduce next year. Given the Times' financial woes, its surprising they haven't released a paid newspaper app already to test the waters for a paid model.

USA Today also doesn't charge for its iPhone app, though publisher David Hunke said last year he regreted making it free after it quickly spread. So it's possible a paid version of the app could eventually be introduced a long with a "lite" version, as with many gaming and entertainment titles.

A paid version also doesn't preclude advertising, but publishers have to be careful not to alienate readers with crowding an app with ads on top of an upfront payment. A couple of reviews posted on the App Store page for the Washington Post complained about the ads being overly intrusive. For now the Post says the paid iPhone app is an experiment and it will gauge the results before launching any additional premium apps. But it's a good place for publishers to start publishers as they weigh paid digital strategies.

One last note: When you do roll out your app, make sure it doesn't break. The WashPo app was down and unavailable almost as soon as it went up.

Come to think of it now, you know what never breaks? Newspapers. Maybe we should have just stuck to those.

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