Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Glasshouse Apps has number one paid news app in iTunes; media companies conspicuous by their absence

You could see this coming a mile away: the number one paid news app for the iPad isn't an app from a media company but from a developer that aggregates news and puts in an attractive format.
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The Early Edition, an app from Glasshouse Apps, currently has the number one paid news app in iTunes for the iPad.

"I had to pinch myself this morning when I woke up and saw that The Early Edition had become the number 1 iPad app in the News category on the App Store," the Glasshouse Apps blog exclaims. "We’ve had such an incredible response from customers and we’d like to thank each and every one of them for shelling out and buying our app."

Glasshouse Apps has two other apps in iTunes: Barista and Cellar -- all priced at $4.99. The gold rush is truly on.

iPad users, hungry for media (after all, this device was sold as a media consumption device) are grasping for anything that will allow them to read their newspapers and magazines. As a result, companies like Zinio, who have done an excellent job developing and promoting their offerings are being rewarded by iPad users.

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Left: NYT story as seen in RSS feed. Right: original view within app.

Even media companies that have launched poor apps, like the New York Times, are still having their apps downloaded in huge numbers. The Times, whose iPhone app has always been considered the standard for mobile news apps, launched a crippled iPad app and now have to live with negative reviews of iPad users. (The complaint is the lack of content available in the app.) So not surprisingly, developers are filling the gap in the market by launching their own apps -- and being rewarded with sales.

Of course, as any user of RSS feeds will tell you, there are some serious downsides to developing a media product based on RSS feeds. First, many feeds are not complete -- that is, they provide the reader with a short summary of the story, or the first few lines. TNM's own e-newsletter (see upper left corner of the home page) is comprised of the short feed. The reason to do this is to prevent the newsletter from being overly long. The result here, as seen in the two pictures above, is that clicking on the story doesn't give you much content. Glasshouse Apps, however, provides you the option to view the original story within a window in the app -- a very good solution since many RSS readers will close the app and open the Safari browser.

The second downside to using RSS feeds is that not all media companies push out content at the same rate. So, for instance, including a news site that pumps out lots of content, along side slower to post sites, means that your front page will contain mostly news from one source. If there was a way to limit the number of stories from any one source, that might improve the balance. On the other hand, if two or more sources post a story on the same subject, say the Iceland volcano ash that is disrupting air travel in Europe, your front page will basically be limited to the same story told different ways by different media outlets.

At $4.99 per download, Glasshouse Apps is taking advantage of the conservative nature of publishers. By filling the void, Glasshouse is simply doing what any good entrepreneur should do: fill a market need, and capitalize on first mover status.