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.
The Miami Herald Media Company published its first smartphone app in 2009 — a Miami Dolphins football app that was one of the first newspaper apps in the marketplace targeting sports fans. Since then, the media company has expanded its portfolio to include a central news app and 10 different niche apps, with an 11th currently in development, all available for both iOS and Android.
Like that very first app, most of the Herald’s niche offerings are related to sports, with a goal of giving fans “a 360-degree view of their favourite sports team,” says Alex Fuentes, vice president of interactive and marketing. “The app features the latest news and blog posts from our beat writers, but it also features an area for users to interact with each other, the team’s stats and roster, and also news about the team from other sources.”
The Herald considers apps to be “extremely important” in its overall marketing strategy. “We see smartphone apps as a way of growing our audience,” Fuentes says. It recently released a niche app for its entertainment site Miami.com and is planning on a new app for its historical Web site, FlashbackMiami.com, which will include a game in which users can check in at historical locations around town.
The company develops its apps internally and offers unlimited free access to apps to all its digital subscribers and to those who choose home delivery plus digital access, making them an added benefit of subscribing.
Non-subscribers can download the apps for free and access a limited quantity of free content each month. When they reach their limit, users are invited to subscribe at a price of US$0.99 per month for niche apps and US$6.99 per month for the main news apps.
The company has successfully recruited a substantial number of in-app subscribers and also sells in-app advertising sponsorships, Fuentes says: “But success is measured also in usage, and our apps are widely used.” That use has led to new insights about how readers interact with Herald content.
“Not all apps are the same,” Fuentes says. “The tablet apps, for example, are mostly used in the morning and in the evening; they are not an ‘all-day’ experience. The phone apps tend to be used throughout the day. On the phone news app, users mostly go to the home screen. They tend not to use the menu as much.”
The Herald is in the process of redesigning its apps to feature a more in-depth home screen experience, he says. In the future, the news media company expects to expand both its user audience and its subscription revenue through smartphone apps.