Where should web publishers invest their time and money - on a mobile site or a mobile app?
While an app is a statement of a reader's loyalty towards a publication, what happens when a reader uninstalls a news app - is that person lost forever?
There's also the issue of dormant apps - once a news app is downloaded, how can a publisher ensure the reader opens it regularly? While push notifications are an option, that can lead to user fatigue fairly quickly.
Thanks to technology, it's now a lot easier to navigate a mobile site, than it was a few years back. This, no doubt, threatens the equity of news apps.
Then there's the biggest question of all - Just how many apps are we supposed to download? As a mobile site, a publisher competes with other news sites. But as an app, a publisher competes with not just other news apps, but with all kinds of apps - banking, utility, food, ticketing, etc.
At Digipub World, a panel of three experts discussed the subject. Here's a summary of their points of view. Edited Excerpts.
Dhruv Mathur, co-founder, product, Little Black Book
For me it's a fairly stright-forward answer. Mobile sites are better suited for reach and speed of distribution. Apps are better suited for engagement, repeat engagement and retention. From a publisher perspective, I'm on the side of the mobile site.
Apps give you an opportunity to measure loyalty, in a controlled way. In most cases, traffic to websites usually comes from other platforms; you don't get an opportunity to build loyalty beyond a point, and the control is less.
With apps, if there's some inherent utility a publisher can build, then people will keep coming back. The first ten times I've to try to make you open the app, but after that, it should become habitual.
Functionally, an app still affords certain things the web can't, like camera usage and maps.
Porush Jain, founder and CEO, Sportskeeda
For our Hindi website, the number of visits on the app and site is the same -around 1,00,000 a day- but the number of users on the app is 10X more than on the website. Similar numbers can be extrapolated to our English site, where the numbers are in millions.
Loyal users want an app - it's as simple as that. A big platform can't have the option of not having an app.
It's unfair to compare a media app to a utility app. Yes, all the big, vertical news (publications) -NDTV, Times, Hindu- are competing with one another when it comes to providing all the latest news... but if you're a niche (player) then it becomes a bit easier for you to keep your customers engaged and to make them stay with your app.
The problem with having an app is that, with every development cycle you have to keep updating it.
Vignesh Vellore, founder and CEO, The News Minute
We don't have an app, so the answer is pretty clear. We decided to go all out on the web and the mobile site, instead of working on an app, primarily due to cost-related reasons. That strategy has paid off. I don't think you'll see an app from The News Minute anytime soon.
A couple of years back our loyal users came to us and asked us why we don't have an app. We then released a video on Facebook about this, after which a lot of people wrote in to say they agreed with us. We've taken conscious efforts -and have spent money and time- towards making our site fast and mobile responsive. We want to ensure that the reader (experience) on the site is as seamless as possible.
There are three kinds of apps - primary (daily use), secondary (ocassional use) and floating apps (usership of these apps falls from 100 to 7 or 8 per cent, within 90 days). We realise that The News Minute would probably be a floating app. That's also why we decided not to put our resources into an app.
For publications, consumption comes from different sources, mainly social media; we're trying to use that platform. We have a WhatsApp broadcasting group which, for us, works a lot better than having an app; we have 5,000 dedicated subscribers on it. We are hoping to build that platform.
A publisher should make an app when half the page views come through the homepage. We're open to the possibility of creating an ad-free, paid app, when we have a loyal user base.