Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A status report on the state of US newspaper mobile efforts; some have chosen mobile websites over apps

A quick look at where we are today:

On July 11 of 2008 Apple launched its App Store for third party apps. At its opening there were 500 apps available for iPhone owners to choose from. Within a week over 10 million downloads had taken place. Today, there are over 300,000 apps available for iOS devices, and over 7 billion downloads have taken place.

One of the first apps in the store was from the New York Times -- and they were there when the first iPad apps appeared, as well. In fact, news apps have been part of the sales pitch for Apple ever since they began allowing third party apps onto their mobile devices.

So, more than two years into the new media revolution who well are U.S. newspapers doing?

No surprise that its a mixed bag. The simplest way to look at it would be to list the top ten newspapers by circulation and see what they have launched to date. Here you go:

As of today there are over 6800 iPhone news apps inside iTunes, and over 1100 for the iPad. Newspaper apps make up only a very small share of those -- most are from developers taking advantage of news feeds, along with other news outlets including radio stations, magazines, etc.

Newspaper mobile app efforts appear to be broken out into three camps: those that have decided to move forward with developing for the new platforms; those who have done the minimum -- usually employing third party vendors to create an iPhone (and maybe Android) app; and those that have created no apps at all to date. Only a very few companies have moved into mobile to the point where they are creating secondary products such as the NYTimes The Scoop entertainment app. (The Tribune Company is supposed to be moving in the direction of creating secondary apps, but so far their efforts have been limited to one app, LAT Star Walk, and none that are directly tied to a newspaper's editorial or advertising content.)

Hearst Newspapers, my old employer, appears to have bet the farm that mobile websites would be the answer, so, to date, they have launched no iOS apps. (My guess is that they will launch a series of apps with Verve Wireless, who they are partnering on their mobile websites.) Their decision was the equivalent of buying a condo at the height of the real estate market. They now get to sit back and watch the media world move forward while they either start again from scratch, or else work to defend their initial decisions.

McClatchy, who does not own a top ten circulation newspaper, has recently launched a series of mobile apps for their newspapers, but have done so using a developer (also Verve Wireless), so it is not surprising that the company has yet to launch a tablet edition for any of its newspapers. (See a pattern here?)

Other smaller papers have been more eager to launch apps -- again, mostly using outside vendors.

When it comes to tablet editions, those that have developed their own mobile apps appear to be in a better position to launch iPad versions. While magazines seem to be more enthusiastic about tablet editions than newspapers, we are beginning to see a few independent newspapers experimenting with the form -- The Oklahoman, for instance.

Note: because the number of apps inside iTunes is so high, I can not guarantee the accuracy of the information above -- though as of this morning it appears right. I will correct the graphic above if I receive additional information.