Archant entered the app world in January 2012. Like every other publisher, we signed up with an agency to produce replica app versions of our magazines and newspapers from PDF.

We trailled non-replica, paid-content apps, as well as some free, image-led versions. We found the free, image-led solution outperformed the former in both downloads and engagement metrics.

This led to a strategy that remains today. We did not enhance our replica edition apps, instead leaving them to be found via the App Store and complement that with promotion of bundles that include digital through our own subscription Web site.

We then launched into a rollout of the image-led, advertising-supported apps. These apps would focus on interest, utilising beautiful imagery to inspire our readers. We combined that imagery with a narrative, video, in-app browser support, and GPS location services.

Interestingly, these “topic”-based apps often would not be led directly by the brand name of our magazines and newspapers. This naturally enabled us to open the door to the rest of our business. We got involved in selling to relevant advertisers outside the immediate, and possibly smaller, world than that in which our magazines would operate.

The engagement of our replica app readership is extremely encouraging. Unique visitors average 2.2 visits and read more than 100 pages per month, per user — without enhancement. However, we have so far held back from selling this as an advertising platform and instead are testing and learning the habits of the audience before embarking on that journey.

On the other hand, our alternative image/topic-led solution (approximately 90 now live) has produced £600,000 in ad revenues in their first year. We are investing in this platform and have developed an “app factory” with its own CMS for advertiser self-serve, Web app, push alerts, vouchers, and daily deals. All of this will roll out extensively in 2014.

Our annualised run rate of sales now stands at £1 million, from which we intend to reverse publish and develop the advertiser message into a multi-channel experience. It will span apps, Web apps, Web sites, newsletters, social media. And, in some cases, it will lead back into special print publications.

Here are some lessons learned through our app process:

  • You will need to be on other major mobile operating systems, like Android.
  • Consider how your app can be useful to your readers, advertisers, and your revenue line.
  • Use app content across other platforms (Web, e-mail, print).
  • Download plenty of apps for ideas, especially competitor apps.
  • Selling into an app that isn’t live is tough. Create good visual sales aids, especially if teams don’t have tablets. 
  • Search the App Store for areas in which you should be active. Be there first. 
  • Align editorial teams to the product. Make it useful.
  • Don’t forget analytics.
  • Think longevity. Can you build a new brand extension? 
  • Focus on the user and his/her needs.
  • Don’t think directory; think inspiration.
  • Have a robust marketing plan.

The engagement with these apps varies — some outstanding and some not so. We constantly learn, and our advertisers are on the journey with us, knowing that we need to create an audience for the “early adopters.” We are also building a new audience, which we hope to convert to paying subscribers.

We have developed a new channel with new brands and new revenues that is still in its infancy. 

We have found focusing on the app market to be a successful strategy, which without doubt is now an established and core activity for us. Using a multi-channel approach is definitely the right solution for our customers.

As an industry, we often preach about readers being able to consume content the way that they want to. This approach provides them with exactly that.

Just like the Web and other digital channels, no single digital pillar can create a sustainable future in isolation. Getting this vertical right, early on, will without doubt pay off in the longer term.