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.  

At the Sacramento Bee, smartphone apps are integral to the overall marketing strategy and have generated a “very high” return on investment, “many times the technical and business payroll and hosting expense,” according to Grey Montgomery, director of mobile initiatives for McClatchy Interactive, the digital division of the McClatchy Company, for which the Bee is the flagship newspaper. 

The Bee has a responsive design Web site, an app for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Android tablet, as well as an e-reader version for Kindle and Nook. Its mobile products are developed internally, targeting current readers with a focus on developing the best possible interactions for app users, 51% of whom are subscribers, compared to just 1% of mobile Web Bee readers, according to analytics.

“We are attempting to create a superior user experience in our apps to make them … cater to our subscriber audience,” Montgomery says. 

Analytics also show that app users have 30 times the engagement level of mobile Web readers as measured by pageviews and monthly unique visitors. The app is mostly used at home. Users rarely use sidebar navigation menus to find content or to seek out sections other than the home page, Montgomery says.

App users have access to a limited number of free pageviews but must pay a subscription rate of US$120 per year after reaching the threshold. Additional revenue comes from in-app advertisements, though the app presents ads “at a much lower volume than online,” Montgomery says.

And while return on investment is high, the app “diverts development resources away from the Web. It’s a second and third platform to develop and support,” Montgomery says.

The Bee measures the success of its app by the number of subscribers, which it expects to see grow by as much as 10% this year. The Bee needs to grow its total levels of monthly unique visitors because while pageview counts are high, Montgomery says, it is not attracting enough monthly unique visitors to draw advertiser interest in many markets.