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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Times Paywall and iPad app: what I like and what we can all learn from it

Much has been made by journalists and media commentators (mostly competitors of News International who own the title) of the move to charge for access to The Time's website, and to buy subscription to the iPad app to get the daily paper.

The data will finally tell us who was right, although early data suggests traffic on the site fell by three quarters (versus the 90% many projected). Also the charts I saw suggested that unique visitors to the competitive news sites was not up (meaning that the same set of people were looking at multiple sites versus a big unique set of people). Anyway, I thought it would be good to enter the discussion as a user and explain what I like and think about the move and the experiment - and what I think marketers and digital players can learn from it.

I have subscribed to the iPad Times news app (at £9.99 a month)

So here are the 5 things about the move so far that I like:

1: it focuses on the core target. In all the debate, the assumption has been that news is generic. It has not focused on the brand. It does not surprise me that the competitive sites have not seen a huge increase in unique users, as I suspect that many people - including me – would look at multiple sites covering news to see different points of view and coverage. But as a loyal Time reader off line, I ended up putting money where my loyalty lies.

When it comes to news there are brands and providers that users are loyal to and have affinities with. I love getting my TV news from Sky News, others from BBC. I love reading The Times. I buy and consume The Times as I like the editorial focus, style and screen. I like the familiarity. This is why people choose brands. The move is focusing on brand users and loyalists, at the expense potentially of volume, but they can focus on serving the needs of loyal users and try to get them to stay longer and spend more. Finding ways of adding value and keeping loyal users and repeat is a good marketing instinct and tactic. Volume and trial is easy to get, especially if it is FREE. But that is not what makes money and profit....

2: they are experimenting and learning. They have made a move, they are trying and experimenting. They are daring to go against the considered opinions and are constantly evolving the offer and actively asking for thoughts and input. This is what good innovation is about. I learnt recently that the best and most successful innovators are ones that keep doing things, trying changes, prototyping, testing live and constantly evolving. They have a belief (that good journalism costs) and are trying to make it work. I admire trying. More people win by trying than by sitting by and waiting for others to prove something.

3: they are using the tools to interact and engage. They have a very active Twitter feed that will contact you, feedback on queries and engage in a conversation. It is excellent and they will actively ask and push information. I feel like a person that is important to the brand, and not just one of a zillion of readers. I think this part of the mix is something that is really powerful and under-estimated in importance. They are making the loyal user feel part of the family and valued.

4: the iPad app is better than the paper, but familiar. It is a product improvement, it has added value and is not a substitute! The app is better than the website which is just like other websites. The iPad app is great. Has the occasional tech problems, but they work on it fast. It is – for me – key. The Times LOOKS BETTER on the iPad than on paper! It feels familiar and reads like the paper we are used to, but has added features and easy to navigate. For me the iPad app is much better than the site, as it feels like the product I like and consumer (but better) while the site looks like any news site. I think this is a missed opportunity.

Also one can access the paper earlier and easier than before as you can download it from about 4 or 5am. It also can be read offline, and for me who is away and out the country a lot means I can see and read my familiar product in “real time” not some day or more old thing.

Don't like
1: That for the £9.99 monthly fee, you don’t get access to the website online. You would need to pay again. Having one charge to access would be better.

I think the 4 things above are key, as they provide some guidance for us as we think about digital and online. Focus on the brand loyal? Experiment and learn, push boundaries just don’t copy? Ensure your offering a product improvement not just an alternative? Use tools to engage and interact?

I hope it succeeds as I am hooked to the app!

Leave a comment on the blog in comments or email me with thoughts: gary@bembridge.co.uk

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