Six ways Scandinavian media companies approach iPad

by John Einar Sandvand on February 20, 2011 · 9 comments

Less than a year after iPad was launched, media products for the device flourish in the Scandinavian market. Here are six media approaches to the new platform.

Scandinavia is one of the most technologically advanced markets in the world. People are quick to adopt new devices and media companies love to be in the global forefront in offering superb solutions when new technologies emerge.

Long before the tablet was officially launched in the Scandinavian market, the first local media apps were ready. By now, just four months after the introduction, most newspapers of any significance is on the iPad in some form or another.

INMA – International Newsmedia Marketing Association - recently gathered 55 media executives for a roundtable discussion in London about tablet subscriptions. The roundtable was inspired by Apple’s change in policy over subscriptions services and what media companies might be permitted to do in their apps.

I was invited to the roundtable to give a snapshot of how media companies have approached iPad in the Scandinavian market.

In my presentation I pointed out that there are basically six different approaches:

I would think these approaches are typical for many other markets as well. Here is an elaboration and a Scandinavian example for each approach.

1. E-paper apps

The most common approach, both in Scandinavia and other parts of the world, is to make a replica of the printed newspaper.

This is done with a number of different vendors, such as Solidam, Visiolink or Newspaper Direct. Typically you can flip through the newspapers and then zoom in on articles you find interesting. In some of the apps users are given the choice of reading the articles in text view.

It seems to be a widespread understanding in the media industry that this approach will not be sufficient in the long run. Still it is considered to be the smartest first move for many media companies. It provides a product readers are familiar with, and the investment for getting in to the market is relatively low.


2. Native apps with premium content

Some media companies conclude that e-paper apps are not sufficient even in the short run. Instead the media houses should try to use the iPad platform to its fullest potential. To do so, these media houses argue, one would need to develop a native app.

In Scandinavia the Norwegian news company VG is a prominent example of this line of thinking.

Another example is the widely discussed News+ platform of the Bonnier group. This native application has been used by both Dagens Nyheter, Dagens Industri and Sydvenskan.

Tor Jacobsen, who is head of mobile products at VG, says their native application now has been downloaded 54.000 times. About half of these people use the application during a week.

- The peak hours for using the application are from 6 to 11 PM during the week and from 8 AM to 1 PM during weekends, Jacobsen says.

Average session time is around 10-12 minutes, which is significantly longer than on other digital platforms.

- What is your main philosophy behind what you try to do on iPad?

- Our philosophy is to make a third editorial product specifically designed for the tablet platform. We still have a long way to go in order to make full use of the tablet, though. For instance photos and videos work very well in storytelling on iPad. We want to improve on being even more iPad relevant and in creating new user habits for consuming content on this platform.

Jacobsen says that VG defines this first iPad year very much as a time for learning. However, he believes that they will be able to charge users for content on this platform if it is done right.

3. Multi-purpose apps

There are different philosophies about what concepts actually work for iPad.

Some argue that apps should be specific and targeted specifically at a clearly defined purpose. Others claim that it would be better if the app includes a number of different needs in one.

In Norway one of the biggest media companies, A-pressen, has decided to build a socalled multi-purpose app. The pilot newspaper is Nordlys in the northern city of Tromsø. A-pressen plans to launch a similar app for a further 17 local newspapers in Norway.

The Nordlys app includes a number of different functionalities:

  • E-paper, which is a replica of the printed paper
  • Touch screen version of the latest stories from the web site
  • Local TV
  • Weather
  • News overview: Aggregating stories from both local, national and international news stories

About 2000 people have downloaded the app – and one in four of these use it every day, says Anders Opdahl, chief editor at Nordlys.

- For us it is important to deliver on our promise to the readers through our 109 years history: Nordlys shall be useful! That’s why we have decided to build many more functionalities in to the app. We believe that if we can be useful and make people stay long in the app, they will also be willing to pay, says Opdahl.

He says user sessions are almost as long as for the printed paper.

- Let us not forget one thing: Many experts talk about the iPad as a sofa device, and says this should influence how we design our products. It may be so. Still, for us the killer functionality of the iPad is that it is connected to the web. And with that follows expectations from users who have been online for almost 20 years. You have to fullfill those expectations first before trying to impress in other areas. In our opinion many media companies don’t get this, Opdahl says.

4. Web content apps

Some news apps take the content from a web site and present it in a more touch-screen friendly way. One example in the Norwegian market is Nettavisen.no.

Nettavisen is an online newspaper, with no printed version. It has always been a free product.

The app presents stories from the web site. In between the stories on the front page ads are inserted.

Head of Nettavisen, Gunnar Stavrum, tells us that 21.000 people have downloaded the app for iPad. 6000 of them use it daily.

- When it comes to user patterns, we see a small peak in the morning. Then it is relatively quiet between 11 AM and 3 PM. About 70 % of our traffic is between 5 PM and midnight. The highest peak is between 9 and 11 PM, says Stavrum.

He tells us that the ads in the app receives a 5 times higher click rate than on the web site, while average user sessions are 50 % longer.

- What is your main philosophy on iPad?

- Not to fall in love with any hypothesis we might have. We want to launch early and observe what the market and competitors do. Our task is not to prove that we are right about hypothesises, but to adjust quickly to to the market.

Nettavisen believes in HTML5 as a technological platform that can keep the door open to competing tablets.

5. Tablet adjusted browser version

The most basic product for iPad is to adjust the regular web site for tablet use. This includes removing ads and editorial content in Flash, which is not supported by Apple.

Aftenposten.no is one of many web sites that have taken this first step to make sure their products can be used on iPad without any major challenges.

6. Special purpose apps

Some media executives argue that while general news subscriptions are nice, the real value is in creating niche apps serving particular needs for the users.

One example of such a special purpose app is the TV Guide from the Norwegian news site VG.

A similar example: In Denmark the newspaper Berlingske Tidende has launched an app for business news.

The philosophy behind these apps is to take out a part of the general news product and create a product that serves a specific need among users.

Many experts argue that this is in fact the area where media companies may create the most value. General news bundles have less value in the digital world than in the analogue world. But new value can be created by using the expertise of the media company to serve specific needs in the audience. In fact media companies should move from being single-purpose companies – offering one general news product – to becoming multi-purpose companies, wide a wide offering of different specialized content offerings.


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Here are some of the slides I used in my presentation about this topic at the INMA Roundtable:

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  • http://twitter.com/robin1016 Robin Lankton

    Interesting article on the use of News and Ipads in Europe.

  • http://twitter.com/eriksand Erik Sand

    Nice and interesting article. One thing I really miss on my iPad – a news-app that makes it possible for me to choose what categories of news I want to recive and in wich order. A bit like a tv-program app, mixed with Flipboards user friendly design and look & feel. We have had the possibility to choose our own prioritized settings in our banks etc. for years, news still come in a very directed way. I want editors in the newspaper to still be editors, I want journalists to dig out the news for me but I would love to decide what goes on my frontpage myself, and I would without a doubt pay for it.

    • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

      Those are interesting thoughts, and I quite sure we will see a number of news services move in that direction over the next years. In fact both Google News and Flipboard work in pretty much that way, although the news streams they offer have not been curated as such by human editors.

  • http://twitter.com/stignordqvist Stig Nordqvist

    Great presentation but less innovation or is it design, usability or focus? Wild west right now. Lets see for long term winners

    • http://www.betatales.com John Einar Sandvand

      Stig, I agree! It is still pretty much up in the air who will be the long term winners. That goes both for media companies, what approach will work and what ecosystem for content that will dominate in the end. Apple’s new subscription scheme doesn’t help much, in my opinion.

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