Aggregator apps: Friend or foe to publishers?


Aggregator apps are changing the way news is discovered, consumed, and packaged.

The popularity of aggregator apps varies largely from country to country. A quarter of the top 20 apps in the news category on both the United States’ Google Play store and Apple’s App store are aggregator apps.

More and more, publishers are understanding the need to have a presence wherever their readers or potential readers are consuming content.

Some have chosen to work together with aggregator apps like Flipboard, SmartNews, and Yahoo News Digest to capitalise on this relatively new distribution channel.

The way publishers are distributing digital content is changing rapidly. The New York Times has reported a dramatic decrease in traffic to its home page, which has largely been attributed to an increase in referrals from social media sites and Google searches linking directly to articles.

The recent removal of Spanish publishers from the Google index has had a substantial effect on traffic to these sites. Aggregator apps, although to a much lesser extent than social media sites, have contributed to this trend of users discovering news articles through sources other than the publishers’ front pages.

Below are some of the reasons people are choosing to read content through aggregator apps, why content publishers have started working with these companies, and some of the reservations publishers have about their content being available in aggregator apps.

Four reasons people use aggregator apps:

  1. They provide a better user experience. The apps focus on delivering the best possible user experience on mobile devices. A uniform design makes it easier for people to view content from different sources in one app.

  2. It saves them time. Readers can use one app instead of multiple apps.

  3. Users are exposed to content they may not have discovered otherwise.

  4. The content is relevant for them. Many aggregator apps focus on filtering the content for the user through recommendation engines and machine learning. The user receives a personalised, contextualised, localised, or social filter of the content. They present content that is relevant to the user at the right time and place.

What is in it for content providers?

  1. Aggregator apps serve as a new channel for distributing content to their users.

  2. They provide new advertising formats. Many of the aggregator apps offer a revenue share model whereby the publisher receives the majority share of the income. Some allow the publisher to sell its own ad spaces within the aggregator apps.

  3. They target a new set of users that may not have discovered the publishers’ content through other channels. The aggregator apps serve as lead generators for attracting new digital subscribers to paid content.

Why are some publishers skeptical?

  1. Fear of losing front-page readers and potentially losing advertisement revenue from current lucrative advertisement placements.

  2. Losing control over the users and advertisers to third-party content distributors.

Here are some of the current most popular aggregator apps together with some of the trending new aggregator apps launched recently.

  • Flipboard: Launched in 2010, Flipboard has amassed more than 100 million active users in just four years. Key features include an intuitive user experience tailored to mobile consumption, user-curated magazines, and 34,000 topics users can follow.

    Its large user base and media partnerships with the likes of the Financial Times, Vanity Fair, New York Times, and, recently, The Wall Street Journal have established it as the leading news aggregator app.

  • Yahoo News Digest: Yahoo News Digest provides a definitive summary of all the important, need-to-know news in a given day. Digests are delivered twice a day through a push notification, once in the morning and once in the evening.

    The app focuses on delivering “just enough news” with a design that leaves the user feeling updated on the most important stories of the day without having to scroll through endless articles.

    All users view the same articles. Content is generated through a combination of hand curation and machine-learning algorithms. Articles are formatted in small, bite-sized chunks of information they call “atoms.” The app is currently free of advertisements.

  • SmartNews: The app developed and made popular in Japan recently made its debut in the United States’ Apple App store. The SmartNews app focuses on trending social media articles with a personalised feed based on a user’s social media interests. There is a low bandwidth feature for consuming news in areas with a poor Internet connection.

    It has deals with media publishers including NBC News, TechCrunch, The Huffington Post, Associated Press, and The Verge. Publishers keep 100% of revenue from ads placed on SmartNews, and links open the publisher’s Web site.

  • Google News & Weather: The Google News & Weather app displays personalised news sections based on the user’s interests or country. It has mobile-friendly navigation among categories such as top stories, technology, sports, and weather.

    Article summaries open articles in the source Web site. The Google News & Weather app provides the same news as Google News.

  • Google Play Newsstand: This allows access to both free and premium curated content, RSS feeds, and topic-based collections of articles. The app learns from your actions and personalises content accordingly. Content can be downloaded for offline reading.

    Google Play Newsstand is pre-installed on many Android devices with more than one billion devices and 1.5 million daily activations. Google Play Newsstand has replaced Google Currents.

  • Nuzzel: Nuzzel keeps you updated with popular news stories shared on Facebook and Twitter by your friends. The most important stories shared by your friends over a set time period are highlighted (the default is 24 hours).

    Customised push notifications keep you coming back to the app to read stories your friends have been engaging with.

  • Circa: Circa breaks up the news into bite-sized, mobile-friendly, digestible chunks of news objects than can be reused in new stories covering the same topic. Circa combines machine-generated content from multiple sources with manually edited content to generate atomized stories. Readers can follow the stories over time to be updated with content they haven’t received before.

  • Facebook Paper: Facebook Paper is a visually rich interactive iPhone app, displaying both trending content and human-curated content from well-known publications. Content is divided up into customisable sections. The Facebook app hasn’t been as popular as many people first predicted.

  • Breaking News: The Breaking News app concentrates on discovery of new breaking news stories. Customisable alerts make it easy to tailor the app to alert you to stories you are interested in. For example, you can set notifications based on your location or a topic of interest.
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