Building a standalone app based on its “Goings on About Town” section seems like a natural step for The New Yorker. The long-standing feature listing current cultural and entertainment events in New York fits easily into the expansive category of mobile apps providing local listings of various kinds from local rivals such as TimeOut NY, Yelp, Foursquare and Zagat.In this crowded category, the “Goings On” app presumably enjoys the advantage of The New Yorker’s own cultural cachet and standing as a curator of the city’s vast range of arts, entertainment, eating and shopping options at any given time. But as an app, Goings On doesn't really seem to have caught on as a go-to guide for New York nightlife.
In the App Store, it has earned a three-star rating (out of five), which leaves room for improvement, but isn't terrible. More telling, however, might be the relatively small group of people providing feedback the rating is based on — only 123 over the last three years. Compare that to the more than 10,000 ratings for the main New Yorker app.
That's despite the fact that Goings On is offered as an entirely free app, while accessing articles in the main app requires a magazine subscription. Sponsoring the updated iPhone version of “Goings On,” app introduced late last week, for the third straight year, is MasterCard. Offers through its latest “Priceless” campaign appear across the app's various sections and can sign within the app for the card giant's Twitter feed to learn about new #PricelessNY promotions.
A new feature that could make the sponsorship more directly remunerative for MasterCard is the ability to buy event tickets through the app (although users can also opt to pay with other types of credit cards.) The e-commerce capability could also make the app more appealing to users by making it more useful -- never a bad characteristic for any app. But no food ordering just yet, so New Yorkers will have to hold onto their Seamless or GrubHub apps.
The updated Goings On app also promises improved navigation, the ability to search events by area and save to calendars, and audio tours hosted by New Yorker critics, and a new section called Excursions in which the magazines writers share their favorite outings around the city. Sasha Frere-Jones and Hilton Als, for instance, share “secrets” about their own neighborhoods. Each day, the section's editors also tweet out ideas about what to do that evening.
Goings On is one of just three New Yorker apps, and a spokesperson for the magazine said there are no current plans for additional stand-alone apps. While the strategy of launching a series of discrete apps has gained traction with both online and traditional publishers, The New York Times’ experience with that approach has shown it’s no magic bullet for boosting revenue or expanding audience.
The Times said earlier this month it was shutting down its NYT Opinion app for lack of a paying audience, and was updating the subscription model for NYT Now to accommodate different types of audiences. The stakes for a free app like Goings On are not as high as for the Times’ newer paid apps, as the paper of record pushes for ways to offset the decline in print ad sales. But if The New Yorker was charging for individual apps like The Times, it might also find them a tough sell.