News Readers and Aggregators: Friend or Foe of Traditional Media?

The tablet market has seen several news readers and aggregator apps emerge that elegantly package news, social media and other content from multiple sources into one compelling and personalized reading experience. Apps, such as Flipboard, Zite and the new Livestand by Yahoo!, seem to have found a place in tablet users’ critical hearts. As such, Livestand is currently the number two free app in iTunes.

What part will traditional publishers play in this space? Are these newcomers posing a competitive threat, or do they give us an opportunity?

News readers provide a powerful new way to consume information. This blog excerpt from globalmoxie.com explains some of the benefits:

“Publishers and designers have to start thinking about content at a more atomic level, not in aggregated issues. That’s how we already understand news as consumers, and we have to start thinking that way as publishers, too. This is why Flipboard, Instapaper, and other aggregators are so interesting: they give you one container for the whole universe of content, unbound to any one publisher.”

It doesn’t seem likely that consumers will pay for these products. Instead, since the news readers rely on third party content, their key to success long term has to be in partnering with content providers. In other words, they need us. But do we need them?

Advertising

At present, it doesn’t appear that news readers drive much referral traffic back to publishers. Over time, this could change, but for now, the only way publishers will benefit is to get ads displayed within their content. You are starting to see some examples of ad placement inside content from content partners. In the example below, The Oprah Magazine is advertising for themselves within Flipboard.

Discovery

The real payoff in partnering with news readers is the potential for premium placement. Yes, you are giving users free access to your content, but you also get maximum exposure of your brand. New audiences will discover you and become familiar with your content. Flipboard, for example has 37 selections, which include brands such as TechCrunch, GigaOm and Wired under Tech & Science. It is publishers job to deliver compelling enough content, such that users eventually will be enticed to visit the original source.

DIY

Instead of partnering with these newcomers, why can’t newspapers or magazines just do something similar to Flipboard themselves? Washington Post did with the launch of Trove earlier this year. What about publishers at the local level? The reality is we could, but instead we spend most of our time pursuing legacy revenue streams from legacy websites.

Partnership opportunities

So, friend or foe? They are both. Foe, in the sense they use our content to “steal” audiences. Friend, in the sense they introduce new audiences to our content. I believe publishers need to work with companies like Flipboard more because of discovery rather than a direct revenue source – at least today.

Many news readers are already reaching out to publishers.

  • Yahoo LiveStand has already included publisher partners from their newspaper consortium.
  • Google Propeller will also have partners in place at launch.
  • Pulse just introduced Pulse Connect, which lets publishers submit their site for inclusion in Pulse. After approval, it is then available to users of the newsreader as a content source.
  • Zite has an integrated partner program that enables content to be provided to appropriately targeted audiences, such as people in your publishing area or people who are interested in content from your area.  Zite claims to use proprietary algorithms to deliver users content that matches their unique tastes and interests and is personalized to the type of content they like to read.
  • Flipboard offers a product called Flipboard Pages, which already includes some larger publishers such as Conde Nast, ABC, SF Gate and the Washington Post. It will soon be expanded to interested publishers, who then become visible inside Flipboard. Users can create a section of Flipboard of just your content.

The jury is out how publishers will make money from news readers, but they cannot be ignored as potential partners.

What do you think? Is partnering with newsreaders a good move, or do you think it would diminish the value of our brand?

For more reading, check out this great article from Nieman Labs, which analyzes the battle between aggregators and single-brand apps.  There is a particular comment I am in agreement with from the article.

“We’ll each pick a single news aggregator to complement our top two to three top single brand choices. Those will be the buttons, the apps, on the first page of our iPads — and the second page won’t matter much”.

Also, check out this blog post from cenevoldsen.com, which talks about why aggregators are so compelling from a design standpoint in the first place.

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  1. November 4th, 2011

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