Key to Magazine App Success? Don’t Think Like a Magazine

For magazine publishers bravely endeavoring to tackle the mobile app space, some best practices are starting to emerge. Short articles are better than long. Service content beats human interest. Curate content, rather than dumping the whole magazine into an app. And refresh, refresh, refresh.
At least that’s the formula that has turned Parenting magazine’s Ages & Stages app into a success. The application, which just launched on the Android platform last week, has averaged 27 minutes usage sessions since debuting as the No. 2 Lifestyle app in Apple’s app store in June of 2010.
Ages & Stages is one of 45 apps shepherded by Zumobi, a company which develops, manages, nurtures and monitors mobile apps for a slew of traditional media companies, including Bonnier (Parenting, Popular Science) Hearst, MSNBC and the Sporting News.
“One of the things we’ve learned is that, while it sounds nice to have a lengthy feature article within a magazine app, but that is not the pattern we have noticed in terms of readership,” said Ken Willner, CEO of Zumobi. “Instead it’s utility and service that works. Publishers need to find ways to re-express that content in an app environment.”
An even more important, and perhaps difficult lesson for monthly magazines is, you can’t just build an app and call it a day. An app has to be a living breathing editorial product. “Constantly updating is critical,” said Willner. “The best examples are always trying to keep apps fresh.”
To that end, publishers should set up some sort of automated alert process — texts, emails or some other regular form or reminder — to keep users coming back to apps, added Willner.
Parenting does not charge for Ages & Stages, given that the mobile ad market is growing so rapidly. Plus Because users are ask to provide the age of their child when they download the app, Parenting can target products aimed at parents of infants and parents of older kids separately, for example. Both Zumobi and Parenting can sell ads within the app.
As for in-app advertising lessons learned, besides good targeting, Zumobi has found that, restraint is key. The company places ads during apps loading screens, and features expandable banners throughout the content experience. Its core product, BrandBlast, is designed to be a rich media, app-within-an-app placement designed to appeal to premium brands.

“We let users go as deep as they want with ads, and we do it in stages,” Willner said. That approach has led to an 8.3 percent click through rate on the Ages & Stages article pages, according to Zumobi’s internal data.
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