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.
As the best-selling newspaper in technology-obsessed Singapore, the English-language Straits Times is under heavy pressure to engage readers across the variety of available platforms.
“No longer just a newspaper brand, it has to be where the audience is, be it in digital or print,” says Eugene Leow, digital editor of the Straits Times, owned by Singapore Press Holdings. “We can’t be on every platform, but we have to be on the major ones.”
Leow says that for smaller news organisations, responsive design Web sites can be a good alternative to developing a smartphone app. But for a big brand like the Straits Times, an app is an absolute necessity.
The Times is currently focused on one smartphone app, believing that there is still ample space for that app to grow in its reach and number of subscriptions, Leow says. It is a “freemium” app that offers free “snackable” commodity news for non-subscribers and full commodity and proprietary stories for subscribers.
In the second half of 2015, it is set to move to a metered paywall model, Leow says.
The company outsourced app development, but embedded two of the Straits Times own developers with the vendor. In the future, the organisation plans to rely solely on internal developers and to “make better use of technology to serve out relevant and related content to our users,” Leow says.
The current app’s appeal lies in the Straits Times’ brand and its journalistic muscle, with its content coming from a 400-person newsroom, the largest in Singapore. “No one can cover local news with the kind of breadth and depth like us,” Leow says, which makes its reporting the unique selling proposition.
The media company offers bundled subscriptions for its print, online, and mobile apps, as well as stand-alone print and digital packages. It generates further revenue through in-app advertisements.
Digital subscriptions are on the rise even as print circulation declines, so that the Straits Times is seeing net growth in overall subscriptions. Steady revenue is coming from both ads and subscriptions, ensuring that its digital operations are profitable.
Tracking its readers has shown that the app gets a high number of low-engagement, “fly-by users, mostly in the early morning,” Leow says. He believes the high bounce rate can be addressed by making news offerings more personalised and relevant for smartphone users.
Looking ahead, he thinks there is room for the Straits Times to develop more niche products for its digital customers and possibly a chance for experimentation with a more complex pricing structure.