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.
Though more than 150 years old, The Irish Times has been quick to embrace digital technology, becoming one of the world’s first newspapers to go online when it launched a Web site in 1994.
The Times is Ireland’s second-largest daily morning newspaper, with a circulation of nearly 77,000 for the second half of 2014, according to the Irish business analysis and marketing firm iLevel.
The news media company currently has a single, core smartphone app for both iOS and Android. Its apps strategy is “to continuously develop smartphone apps with compelling content, functionality, and design to support a paid content strategy,” says Lynne Henderson, project manager for app development at The Times, who works alongside its business-to-consumer director and business analytics team.
“Audience engagement is our primary goal,” she says.
Apps form a “fourth leg” of The Times’ reader engagement “stool,” Henderson says, along with its print product, Web site, and e-paper edition. More than 43% of The Times’ readers access it using smartphones. And though it has had a responsive design Web site since March 2013, readers continue to embrace the alternate browsing experience offered by its app.
An internal app development team handles specifications, project management, and testing for The Times, but third-party developers build the shells of its app. The end product carries a broad range of The Times’ news and features, using the quality of its content as the primary distinction between it and the competition, Henderson says.
“We include video, podcasts, live blogs, and galleries,” she says. “The content in our apps is driven by our content management system, which gives us the flexibility to remotely adjust and refine the content that we deliver to our users.”
The Times’ app includes a stand-alone metered paywall, allowing users to read 20 free articles a week to read on the app before they are prompted to log in. App subscriptions are included in The Times’ digital subscription bundles, with a standard price of €12 for Web site and app access; for a €16 premium digital subscription, readers also get access to the Times’ e-paper.
The Times measures success by its overall app downloads, monthly and weekly users, monthly and weekly sessions, and monthly and weekly articles read, Henderson says.
It also uses its app to gather data about its readers, such as tracking usage by time of day, which has shown particular peaks for app use in early morning and late evening that it doesn’t see on other platforms.
Because a significant proportion of Times app users also access its content on other platforms, the company needs to assess app usage and user profiles as part of its broader user profiling, Henderson says.
“One of the challenges of app user analysis is the ‘like for like’ comparison with other platforms. For example, the ‘articles read’ metrics can be misleading, given the swipe functionality on the app.”
In the coming years, The Times plans to grow its app audience and its base of subscribers who come to it through the app, Henderson says, alongside expected growth in mobile e-commerce.