Quartz Brief, the award-winning news mobile app, is being put out to pasture so the digital news publisher can focus more on a newer one launched in the fall.
Digiday has learned that Quartz plans to shut down the Quartz Brief, the chatbot-style mobile app launched to great acclaim in 2016. The app will shut down July 1. Adam Pasick, who headed up editorial operations for the app, as well as the Quartz Daily Brief, one of Quartz’s flagship newsletters, left for a job at The New York Times in May. A spokesperson said Pasick’s departure had no bearing on the decision to shut down the app.
The Brief, which earned the adoration of media watchers but never managed to grow a large-scale audience, is being shut down at a moment when Quartz is devoting more resources to driving consumer revenues; Quartz launched a membership product in November, which costs $14.99 per month or $150 per year, as well as a new mobile app modeled after NewsPicks, the mobile news app owned by Uzabase, the Japanese firm that acquired Quartz in July.
“As we prioritize some exciting changes ahead for the main Quartz app and Qz.com, the Quartz Brief app will shut down on July 1,” a Quartz spokesperson wrote in an email. “The Quartz Brief has represented many of Quartz’s best qualities, with groundbreaking product design and new forms of writing, and the lessons and spirit of the idea will always be at the heart of our product offerings as we grow and evolve.”
The Quartz Brief made a big splash when it first launched. Originally built around a chatbot-influenced user experience, Quartz Brief served users a mixture of stories published by Quartz and third parties such as The Washington Post, summarized with a mixture of text and gifs. Apple named it one of the ten best iPhone apps of the year, and publishers ranging from Business Insider to CNET to GQ declared it among the best mobile apps available.
As the years wore on, Quartz added a number of different features to the Brief, ranging from an augmented reality section to a “Trump snooze” button, which would automatically take Trump-related content out of the app for 24-hour periods. Quartz was able to monetize all of those features, a spokesperson said, distributing sponsored content through many of the features.
“The Quartz app was always an experiment. And it was a good one,” said David Ho, former executive mobile editor at The Wall Street Journal. “Quartz tried new things with notifications, with chat, making news a conversation.”
“Even more than the experiments themselves,” Ho went on, “Quartz’s willingness to try something different out in the wild is a legacy all by itself.”
But the accolades did not lead to sustained audience growth. Since the beginning of 2017, the Quartz Brief app has been downloaded 1.3 million times across both iOS and Google Play, according to Apptopia data, with monthly downloads trending downward over that time. Through the first half of this year, the Brief was averaging 23,000 downloads per month across both mobile app stores, according to Apptopia data. The Brief app has spent most of 2019 ranked outside the top 100 news apps on both stores, according to App Annie data. This week, the Brief was not ranked within the top 200 free news apps available in either store.
“Some people loved it!” one former employee said. “Just not hundreds of thousands of people.”
Once the Brief disappears, Quartz will focus more attention on its newer app, which foregrounds community and is designed to stimulate conversation among users. That app, launched in November 2018, has been downloaded more than 500,000 times across both app stores, according to Apptopia data. A Quartz spokesperson said the number of active users of the new app is “on par” with the number of active users of the Quartz brief, without sharing a specific number.