Folha de S.Paulo’s subscription-only smartphone app is poised for the future


Folha de S.Paulo's subscription-only mobile app.
Folha de S.Paulo's subscription-only mobile app.

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.   

Grupo Folha, parent company of daily broadsheet Folha de S.Paulo, found its readers typically spend less time consuming content on smartphones than on desktop platforms, but they will navigate more deeply into Folha’s pages. 

Folha has the highest online readership of any newspaper in Brazil, reaching more than 32 million people each month, about one-third of Brazil’s Internet users. 

Folha currently has only one app, developed for both iOS and Android, on which it presents the same content as its Web site, along with an experience parallel to its browser navigation.

That has made development “more efficient and cost effective” as mobile traffic growth outpaces mobile revenues, says Paulo Schiavon, Folha de S.Paulo’s digital advertising director. 

“We used to say the content is the king and the context is the queen,” Schiavon says. “We offer the best of both for readers and advertisers.” 

Content in the app, as on the browser site, is behind a paywall, fully accessible to Folha subscribers but not to others. There are no mobile-exclusive subscriptions. In addition to revenues gathered from subscriptions, the app also generates revenue through display advertisements. 

Apps are a key aspect of Folha’s medium-term marketing strategy, Schiavon says, and the company is carefully researching app development to identify new opportunities. But it also believes mobile is just one platform for delivering content, Schiavon says. 

“We are always committed to delivering the best news, no matter where,” Schiavon says. “Therefore, we struggle to get the best out of desktops, smartphones, tablets, and print media … where we can reach the largest and best audience in the country.” 

Folha takes an integrated approach to mobile, treating it as just one channel for content delivery, but one that offers specific opportunities and challenges for delivering a quality user experience. An app cannot offer one-stop shopping for readers, and they do not expect that, Schiavon says.

“Mobile demands vertical applications to each service, and we are starting our journey towards it, one step at a time,” he says. “Local services, breaking news, listings, and other types of content must not be a one-app solution. We have to deal with readers and customers in certain ways in each context,” according to their needs. 

Folha outsources most app development work but performs some maintenance internally. The company has been exploring the development of several new digital products, including some that would exploit important niche audiences.

Development costs are too high for the newspaper to spend money developing apps with limited appeal, requiring the media company to focus on niche apps only in core areas, Schiavon says.

Folha’s holistic approach to content distribution extends to its measurement of ROI (return on investment), but it closely follows and measures the evolution of its app, Schiavon says. While smartphone solutions have become a necessity for future growth, he says, they are not yet a major revenue stream. 

That could change quickly. Schiavon believes 2016 could be a very big year for growing audience, investments, and revenue streams in mobile.

“I think we are just beginning the mobile journey. There is so much to still learn from consumer behaviour and aspirations in this kind of platform. The game also changes fast when new devices, players, and technologies [enter the] market. It is an ever-changing world.”

About Jeremy C. Fox

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