The Guardian launches subscriber-only, ad-free daily app

The Guardian has released a daily app for paying subscribers, as part of its quest to reach 2 million financial supporters by 2022.

The draw of the new app is that it won’t carry ads and will offer a more streamlined news product. The new app lets users scroll horizontally through the paper’s sections, like national, world, culture, sports, and swipe right to read the stories within that section. For instance, on Oct. 15., the national section had 35 stories, the culture section had eight. The goal is to give the app a lighter overview while scrolling horizontally adds more depth. The app also lets users read the previous week’s worth of papers. The app will not carry any member-exclusive content.

“This [app] is one of the first building blocks toward growing digital subscribers. Contributions have been a great success, but we also need to tap into the importance of digital subscriptions,” said Juliette Laborie, director of digital reader revenues at The Guardian. “There’s room for a news experience with a different cadence, a finite amount of content carefully curated by editors as a complement to the live app, but for subscribers.”

The Guardian’s challenge in building a paying-reader base is that it won’t make content only available to those who pay. That’s far different than subscription efforts in place at The New York Times and elsewhere. Instead, the new subscriber app presents a different packaging of content, although all the content is still available to those who do not pay.

The Guardian has 190,000 digital subscribers across its existing live news app and iPad replica of the newspaper. Last year, it introduced a paid-for tier in its regular news app, which gives subscribers access to features like all the live blogs and breaking news in one place. While the publisher would not break out how many subscribers each channel has, the bulk of digital subscribers currently comes from the paid-for tier in the existing app. The publisher has already set an ambitious goal of reaching 2 million paying supporters, so it needs to ensure it wins new subscribers and keep them returning.

Previously, for the 10-year old iPad app and digital replica of the paper, each content section was presented as if it were a single grouping, like the section in the print product. All stories presented in one panel felt congested. By increasing the modules and scrolling to the right, the app aims to appear less cluttered.

According to Laborie, The Guardian user research shows that readers feel overwhelmed with the constant flow of news and struggle to know what to focus on, leading the Guardian to explore new ways of packaging content.

“We want this to have both acquisition and retention potential,” she said. “It’s a habit-forming product and something people come back to, but we think it can have a lot of appeal for new subscribers. It’s a different experience for news for people looking for something new.”

Typically publisher app users are highly valuable. Reading more content more regularly and for longer, prompting leading subscription publishers to beef up their apps for subscribers, including The Economist which last year launched an app to help drive retention.

The app is designed to drive subscriptions and retention.

The Guardian had a team of between 15 and 20 people working on the app for the last six months.

The app design takes its cue from the digital user experience of music streaming apps like Spotify, which have a similar challenge to the Guardian in having to display masses of amounts of content grouped by genre in an intuitive way.

“The key design differences to the paper are the nomenclature and hierarchy,” said Alex Breuer, executive creative director at The Guardian. “The content and frequency are the same, but structure and naming are different.” For instance, the new app doesn’t have a features section because readers and the team found the word too nebulous.

“We wanted to make something simpler and of those digital platforms, rather than a transition product from print,” Breuer added.

Around 2,000 readers have been testing the app over the last two weeks. In that time, they have sent around 500 feedback emails to the team.

Last November, The Guardian announced it had over 1 million financial supporters across print and digital. In May, when it announced it had broken even, the company said it had 655,000 regular monthly supporters across both print and digital, with a further 300,000 people making one-off contributions in the last year alone. Total revenues at Guardian News & Media grew 3% to £223 million ($287 million) a year, with 55% of the company’s income coming from digital activities.

According to Laborie, more subscription products will come. While this app is based around the newspaper content, it paves the way for more apps that will display different content collections. For instance, The Guardian tracks a promotional score out of 100 for how much promotion it puts behind the content, based on criteria like how long the story is on the page and where it’s positioned. The team sees a future where it could package up food articles that The Guardian has promoted the most over the last 10 years.

“It’s a production tool to do things that won’t be paper-centric, but also, exploring different geographies for The Guardian in Australia and the U.S.,” said Laborie.

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