Friday, July 27, 2012

The Guardian Eyewitness gets an update that introduces a paid 'premium' option

The Guardian's photojournalism app, The Guardian Eyewitness, was a pioneer, of sorts. On the day that the original iPad launched in the U.S., The Guardian did not launch a news app, but instead launched a free photojournalism app that showed off the display potential of the new tablet.

The app, like The Guardian's website, has always been free – without any paywall at all. But now, The Guardian has decided to introduce a "premium" option that will cost readers £1.49 a month ($1.99 in the U.S. App Store).
Readers will continue to get the regular content for free but now readers can sign up for "Eyewitness Premium" and receive three more photographs a day. The app itself has been redesigned to organize the free and paid content into "Collections".

The Guardian has had a strange history when it comes to app development. It has often been one of the first to launch an app – its iPhone news app, for instance, made an early appearance in the App Store – but then seem to lose interest for long stretches of time. I suppose an alternative explanation would be that the newspaper has a hard time deciding what it wants to do. Its first iPad news app did not appear until a year and a half after the iPad's launch – though it came with much fanfare.

The Guardian Eyewitness seemed to launch and then get forgotten quickly, not getting any updates until just recently (the current version is only 1.2). The original app, like many others, was launched free, without any real business model. With The Guardian's commitment to keeping its website free, one would have thought that the paper was looking to eventually monetize the app via advertising, or at least sponsorship.

I think it is not a terribly bad idea* to experiment with a paid option for The Guardian Eyewitness, but it would be better to see the paper be a serial launcher of apps. The chances that the photojournalism app will generate significant numbers of subscribers seems slight.

After 28 months, The Guardian still has only its two iPad app. Like many other newspapers, it seems to see itself simply as a newspaper company, not as a digital publisher. (The New York Times is making the same mistake – it, too, has only two iPad apps currently in the App Store.)

If the paper is finding that app development is costly, then the real issue is the way it is developing apps. At this point the company should have a team capable of developing apps in a timely and cost effective manner. If it doesn't, it has wasted 28 months.

* Double negative, feels very British.