WAN-IFRA: Case study on mobile paid content: Mobile is less of a challenge than the generation gap

PressReader could be described as an international digital kiosk aiming to reach hard-to-reach news consumers. Specifically, the Vancouver, Canada-based company focuses on individual travelers and the patrons of public/academic/government libraries. For obvious technical reasons, those audiences are largely unreached by publishers. But they represent a significant source of subscription revenue that does not cannibalise the more traditional paid content channels.

Known as NewspaperDirect until 2013, PressReader turned 15 years old this year, which makes it by far the oldest digital newsstand. It survived many waves of technological changes because it focuses on accessibility of the service across a myriad of operating systems and devices worldwide, preserving the user experience as much as possible, regardless of the platform the reader chooses.

Relatively new, just a few years old but essential to any e-retailer these days, is the way PressReader increasingly mines and interprets the prodigious amount of data the newsstand collects every day. As Malyarov explains, that opens perspectives to improve the service and the monetisation of its content.

The PressReader process starts with more than 3,000 publishing partners from 108 countries uploading hundreds of titles as PDFs. But then those digital replicas gain functions that are quite different from what existed when the newsstand was created: “The digital edition is constantly enhanced as publishers add videos, audio, graphics, photo galleries, breaking news. As digital reading evolves, influenced by the use of mobile devices, we have developed the possibility for readers to access an horizontal navigation (in what the company calls “SmartFlow”), as opposed to pure vertical reading in the replica format, and we use algorithms that push personalised content to the readers, adds Malyarov.

In this interview, he describes what is changing for the company as a result of the boom in mobile usage and reading habits of digital news consumers.

WAN-IFRA: How do you address the complexity created by the need to address so many different platforms and mobile devices?

Malyarov: We chose to redevelop PressReader in HTML5 a couple of years ago and create hybrid apps for the different devices and app stores. A platform can be small in an area of the world and very big elsewhere, so we need scalability to keep all channels available and updated. PressReader is accessible on multiple devices: desktop computers, tablets, smartphones and e-readers running on Apple iOS, Android, Android for Amazon, Windows 8 and BlackBerry 10.

Is the business-to-business (BtoB) segment different than it was when you started a few years ago?

We now serve thousands of libraries, hotels, corporations, cruise ships, airlines, lounges, cafes and other service providers around the world – reaching just over 250 million readers. In the library environment, each purchases a license that gives simultaneous access to a certain number of users. This segment is very loyal and since we are constantly increasing the number of titles available to them and our offer is global and multilingual, the use of the service has been growing.

The logical evolution was to unlock the quantity of titles people could read, the time spent on the platform and the number of people accessing it, and to include mobile devices, for example. This unlimited access comes with a higher subscription price, but it has been quickly embraced by the BtoB segment. We also offer the service as a PressReader HotSpot. Clients can access the newsstand courtesy of the hotel, for example; it’s perceived as a service, and some of the hotels use it as an additional reason to justify charging for WiFi in guest rooms. In the cases of hotels or cruise ships, airlines, the digital service replaces or complements the physical copies of the titles. Print copies are difficult to manage. Airlines, for example, are working hard on eliminating extra weight on board, so they are interested in digital alternatives. We work with specialised service companies that make our solution available on planes and cruise ships in an offline or limited online capacity.

The PressReader technology also powers privately-branded digital editions and kiosks for publishers or groups of publishers (see the list at the end). We see a lot of experimentation on their side: testing pricing, content offers, sponsored offers (via a local advertiser), and multiple editions to refresh the news content during the day and provide adapted content based on the different ways readers consume content.

At the heart of your proposal are digital replicas of news titles; they work on desktop computers or tablets, but are not ideal for smartphone users. How do you address that specific usage?

Overall, we see an evolution in readers’ behaviour. There’s a generation gap that calls for a differentiation in the service we offer. There is a split between generations still loyal to the digital replicas of a publication, and younger readers, who are open to aggregated contents personalised to their interests. News brand recognition is still important, of course. But it decreases in the younger demographics, where the attitude to news consumption changes; it’s a more topic-driven consumption. The younger audience sees us as a source of premium content where the news can be tailored to specific subjects. But each of those pieces of content they will read when they filter per topic is linked to the source so it still promotes the original newspapers and magazines.

The digital replica is a transitional format, so we have to start adding other sources and types of content. So far, our model has been to pay a fee to the publishers for each copy of their publication that has been accessed on the newsstand. Down the road, we will have to look at other commercial models to better support the evolving news consumption habits. As you can imagine, we are also exploring additional revenue streams, such as integrated advertising services, for example. It’s not a short-term strategy, but with the data we generate on our users’ behaviour, the “consistency” of quality profiles around the world, it is a definite interest for global brands.

What have you learned about users’ willingness to pay for mobile content?

Regarding digital subscriptions on mobile devices, our understanding before was a bit vague. We knew that it was important to make it easy to pay, hence the success of iOS over Android, etc. But there’s one factor that also matters, we have realised. Because we still provide the replica of a print edition, there is an emotional connection to the print brand. People know that a print copy comes with a price, so they accept that a digital replica is paid content too. That said, we encourage publishers to enhance the replicas with videos, breaking news and other multimedia content. For other types of presentation, like an aggregated stream – even when it’s personalised – I think it will require more time for people to accept the need to pay. Hence our tests with other contents that the consumer might be willing to pay for.

*White label newsstands:

The Globe2Go by The Globe and Mail (Canada) – 1 publisher and 1 title (6 editions and 4 supplements)

The New York Times and The International New York Times (USA)-1 publisher and 2 titles/2 sites

Kiosko y Más (Spain) – 70+ publishers and over 400 titles

The Australian– 1 publisher and 1 title (SDK integration)

Kiosco La Nación (Argentina) – 1 national publisher and 13 titles

Kiosco Paraguay (Paraguay) – 1 publisher and 12 titles

GESCA CAA (Canada) – Sponsored partners site with 1 national publisher and 8 newspapers

DNP Kiosk by Honto (Japan)10  publishers and 22 titles (and growing)

CIMB-ASEAN ePaper5 publishers from the Asian Newspaper Network partnering to offer one multi-title subscription sponsored by CIMB bank. Available via each of the publishers’ own digital edition sites and apps.