Will People Pay for App-Based News Publications?

    August 16, 2010
    Chris Crum

A couple weeks ago, reports surfaced that News Corp. was working on a new app-only publication. Even before much was known about the project, some heralded it as a "game changer". I find that notion to be a bit premature.

Will this be a game changer? Tell us what you think.

As time progressed, we heard more about how excited Rupert Murdoch had become about tablets. The Guardian ran a piece quoting him as calling them "the perfect platform" for cheap and convenient, up-to-date News Corp. content.

While it is still in the early stages, a little more information is coming out about News Corp.’s project. The LA Times says the publication would have its own dedicated reporting and editing staff, but may still draw from other News Corp. content. This would of course be paid content.

Dawn C. Chmielewski reports: "If green-lit, News Corp. could invest anywhere from $30 to $40 million in the venture, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. New York Post executive editor Jesse Angelo would oversee the separate digital news operation, in addition to his responsibilities at the tabloid."

How much does the iPad really change news?Chmielewski goes on to say that this would directly compete with the New York Times, USA Today, and other national publications. I see more than one glaring issue with this. Most people do not own tablets. Yes, iPad sales have been impressive, and the device is starting to get some competition. There’s no doubt in my mind that tablet use will continue to gain popularity, but the fact remains, it will be a while before these devices are in everyone’s hands or even reach cell phone or PC status. Granted, the app would be available for phones as well, but clearly the tablet factor is what is generating the hype – the bigger, more magazine-like feel that can be achieved.

Another flaw? How about the fact that the web is still available on tablet devices and mobile phones. While tablet owners may prefer reading on their tablets, there is still plenty of free content that could keep the majority of readers from paying.

That’s not to say this project will be a complete failure, and it is clearly experimental, but it still stands to reason that app-only content will face many of the same obstacles as print content, in addition to the limited use of tablets, and limited size of phones.

A pre-iPad study (conducted by Forrester in November) found that 80% of consumers wouldn’t access news sites if they had to pay. Will this really change with apps?

Forrester - Would You Pay for Content?

Another more recent study from the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism also found that consumers aren’t too willing to pay for content (including Twitter, though Roger Ebert’s Twitter followers felt differently).

Do you see yourself paying for news content app subscriptions? Let us know.