Mobile phones have got smarter; surfing speeds have got better. How has this impacted the role of the mobile app vis-a-vis the website? In the age of responsive websites and progressive web apps should a publisher invest in apps and if yes, why? With this question, Ashwini Gangal, executive editor, afaqs! began the session, ‘Has the role of mobile apps changed’ at the recently concluded Digipub World.
Ramsharan Gorur Jayaraman, director of engineering, Quintype; Suchita Salwan, co-founder and CEO, Little Black Book; Puneet Gupt, COO, Times Internet and Kunal Raheja, creative evangelist, Adobe were the panelists discussing the relevance of apps.
Suchita Salwan was the first one to share her opinion that a platform like LBB, which is not necessarily in the business of content rather its purpose is to connect brands with audiences, needs to have an app. “As a platform that caters to an audience who has an extremely high intent, having app is quintessential,” she said. Furthermore she adds, “The conversion on our app is actually three to seven times higher than web conversions even though our web customer base is larger given the traffic there is more diversified.”
Quintype’s Jayaraman feels the content that is freely available on social media or on browsers don't really do well on the app. He explained why he felt so, “When the content is available for free, there is not enough incentive for someone to download and install an app. But the moment you have native interaction in any form then the app becomes helpful. Apps allow users to personalise content, as the users gets habituated to the app, the app also learns about users from their browsing behaviour, and gradually shows more of what the user likes. This is the incentive of downloading the app.”
“Apps do very well on what we call toothbrush use cases which means you’ve got to use it at least twice a day,” said Puneet Gupt, COO, Times Internet. Giving more examples he said, “If you want a user to stream your music, the app works very well, same goes if you are going to produce shows regularly. When you know you have enough content to pull audiences regularly, you must have an app. When it comes to news, however, the offering of an app or a browser might not be very different.”
“Coming from a technology background,” Kunal Raheja, creative evangelist, Adobe opined, “I understand the app is becoming extremely important. Mainly because user experience has become crucial today. While browsers have really improved when it comes to connectivity it still has some restrictions. If you are a platform that wants to connect to smart watches and other smart devices, you would need an app to offer that experience.”
The app is also a marketing tool for publishers, chipped in Gupt. He said there are only two avenues to promote a digital product — one is the internet and the other is the app store. Gangal interjected and asked Gupt about the economics involved. He replied, “If you just want to get someone to try your product on the browser you could manage to do it by spending around 40 paisa, but when it comes to an app you might need to spend 50 bucks to have him try your app by downloading it. What I believe is, once you have got a significant number of people to try the product, then and only then should you introduce an app. Because a few among those who tried the product might like to interact further and therefore download an app, but not everyone would do that.”
He was also of the opinion that the perception that app audiences are loyal isn’t necessarily true. He backed this with the example of an app with more than one hundred million downloads but having only about 10 million active monthly users. The question here is, where have the remaining 90 million gone? “What I mean to say is that an app by itself does not induce loyalty, it’s only the few who remain with the app who are loyal,” said Gupt.
The next question Gangal put forth to the panel was about the return on investment. In response, Salwan said, “The decision to launch an app should be driven by the cost per acquisition that one can afford. At the end of the day, we are in the business to deliver profits over a period of time. For us, we only decided to scale up our app when we realised that the ARPU (average revenue per users) we get out of our users was far higher than most other lifestyle content websites.”
Gupt shared that Times Internet observes use cases before making a call on launching apps. “To give you an example, Gadgets Now, the technology and gadget review portal from Times Internet, garners around 40 to 50 million active monthly users and yet we do not have an app for it.” The reason behind it being, the portal is only the starting point of a reader’s journey. “When you know your starting point is search a website is good enough,” he added.
Talking about monestisation, Gupt said, the CPM inventory on app and progressive web app is similar. “However, the average revenue per app user is 15x higher than web traffic and that is because app users are the distilled ones and they interact multiple times,” he concluded.