From the beginning, it was clear that apps offered up a huge opportunity to our business.

Unlimited content, low fixed costs, and low competition meant that every single app gave us a new way to reach the elusive reader and gently tug them away from their beloved printed magazines. 

Within the first year, we launched 30 apps, one at a time. 

The crux of the process was that each iOS app was individually crafted by an external developer. The time and cost involved for custom “native” builds became unsustainable. And with demand increasing within the business, an alternative solution was needed, sharpish. 

The launch of Archant’s new in-house app creation platform in late 2013 was a giant step forward in digital opportunity. Dubbed “The App Factory” for its ability to whizz out apps at a rate of knots, an app could be built and launched within less than an hour — ready to start adding unlimited content. Unlike before, the apps are now suitable for phone or tablet iOS and Android devices, too. 

The largest criteria for an App Factory build was an under-complicated interface so that even a child could use it. This means the technically unsavvy can come to grips with managing the software locally within minutes.

With around 200 apps launched to date, all looked to be going swimmingly. However — and this is a critical learning — as a stand-alone publication, an app lacks something fairly substantial: engagement and audience. 

It became apparent that as a singular product, they were unattractive to readers, almost unlinked from their parent print brands and Web sites. 

App stores are becoming increasingly overpopulated. And whilst downloads are forecasted to continue to increase, discoverability for a niche local app is like finding a needle in haystack — regardless of how many house ads you run. 

The App Factory brought a new perspective to the way we view digital sales. No longer can an app be thought of in isolation; our Web sites, e-mail inventory, and even printed products are not a strong enough proposition on their own.

The scope and value offered by combining digital and print products allows publishers to reach out to every nook and cranny of their target audience to gain the very best response for their advertisers. 

Our most recent case study is “The Menu,” a regional food and drink brand that takes full advantage of the reach of both our digital and print products. The brand promotes local gourmet businesses, along with any current offers they might have. 

Archant has dabbled with packaging digital products for customers like everyone else. When re-assessing the impact of these, we realised our chance to go to market with a package that could be compared but not beaten — and at the center of it we placed an app.

OK, so the app doesn’t have the reach of our Web sites, the engagement of our magazines and newspapers, or the immediacy of our e-mails and social media. But it does have a unique place in a users pocket, with its own way of reaching new food and drink lovers for our advertisers. 

The success of The Menu has changed the entire way we think about apps. An app is nothing without the power of our other audiences — the ones we have worked so hard to build over the last 160 years. 

The app no longer stands alone like the metaphorical shy boy at a school disco. Instead, it stands proud amongst his friends and shows the girls what they’re missing. Now along with being featured on an app, customers reach print, Web, social, and newsletter users — all in one simple, tidy and effective 360-degree booking. 

The App Factory has been short-listed for a national media award in the United Kingdom. Despite the recognition, it is still screaming out for more opportunities, and we need to continue to use everything in our armoury to bring response to advertisers and satisfaction to readers.

So unless you think you can achieve millions of downloads with the next version of Candy Crush, be sure to build apps into your overall product proposition.