Editor’s note: This is one of 19 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “Smartphone App Lessons for Media Companies,” released in July.  

Fairfax Media has found that the audience it reaches through apps is quite distinct from its browser audience.

Because social media and online search don’t deliver large audiences to apps in the way that they do to Web sites, apps don’t attract the broad range of visitors — from one-timers to loyalists — as browser traffic.

But app readers are “good readers,” says Mobile Director Stefan Savva, “because they have chosen to download your app and make a deliberate choice to come to you.” 

Fairfax Media — which owns newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and digital media in Australia and New Zealand — takes a needs-based approach to mobile: The news media company focuses first on optimising its product portfolio for mobile Web, then it builds mobile apps only where it makes sense, Savva says. 

The choice is quite clear in some areas of its business, for example, where the user experience is noticeably different between the two platforms (mobile Web vs. mobile app), as in its e-commerce sites, Savva says. The decision is less straightforward for content-based sites.

In those cases, Fairfax looks at the potential audience size and demographic and asks: What would make users download this app? What will be fundamentally different from the mobile Web experience? 

“Apps are really important to paying subscribers, and our strategy is not to dictate how they read our content,” Savva says. “We think subscribers should be able to choose how they experience our content, and apps are a big part in creating a great user experience.” 

Fairfax’s team handles the vast majority of its development internally. But the media company also recognises a need to improve its handling of the usual twists and turns of the product roadmap, which is where an outsource partner can be really helpful, Savva says.

All Fairfax digital products include in-app advertisements in a range of standard, custom, and bespoke advertising solutions. Across Fairfax’s mobile app portfolio, prices for users range from free to A$18 per week. 

“Success for us is measured in audience size, audience satisfaction, and revenue,” Savva says. “Our tablet apps have been tremendously successful on all those fronts.”

Fairfax sees great growth potential in app development and is especially excited about its work in improving the value of mobile advertising, Savva says:

“If smartphones were a person, [they] would only be 8 years old — still very young but developing rapidly,” he says. “Lots of work still needs to happen in this area, but we are headed in the right direction.”