The Telegraph: How the revered newspaper ventured into the world of tablet publishing

by Michael Fitzpatrick

January 16 2012

The Daily Telegraph may have one of the fustiest images in newspaper publishing but it has always displayed a surprisingly go-ahead sagacity when it comes to digital publishing. Remarkably, it was 1994 when it became the first European newspaper to offer a daily news online presence.

Its venture onto tablets was no exception, although as the developer, Tim Rowell of Tigerspike, the consultancy behind The Telegraph iPad app, admits himself every move onto a new device is a ‘big gamble for all media companies'.

With so much expense involved at a time all newspapers are tightening belts there was some caution, however, from the Telegraph Media Group, which publishes the UK’s best-selling quality paper, The Daily Telegraph (circulation 651,000) and its sister site telegraph.co.uk. The company, based in London, has 340,000 print subscribers and made pre-tax profits 53.1 million GBP in  2009.

Rowell says that The Telegraph spent about two months looking and evaluating the pre-launch beta for iPad. Curiously, after being given such a precious lead by Apple -- a pre-release build of an iPad two months was offered to just four publishers in Europe before launch -- The Telegraph decided not to go with a full app launch when the iPad landed in the UK in May 2010. Instead, it offered limited content and a means to gather reader data.

"Our mind has changed from what we thought we would do at the beginning and what we intend to do now," said Rowell, speaking at a conference organised by the  UK Association of Online Publishers earlier this year. (http://www.ukaop.org.uk). At the time, Rowell was director of mobile product development at The Telegraph. 


Because the device was so new, The Telegraph had no idea of how it would be used, or if its audience would use it at all, according to Rowell. So rather than launch its all-encompassing service, the group opted for a simpler product, but one that would give them tracking data so they could learn from user behaviour. Half of all users -- 60,000 people – volunteered their data.

Some think that this was a wise decision: “The Telegraph has been on a long and well-informed journey in the development of its paid iPad app and for that, it should be congratulated,” said Julia Hutchison from the Association of Publishing Agencies (APA) in London, when speaking to TabTimes.

“Often, especially when a new platform as exciting as the iPad appears, brands jump at the chance to be seen to be there first, without properly considering exactly what its readers actually want from it. However, by first releasing a free app, collecting data and researching both the market and what its consumers really want, The Telegraph has come up with something that can really engage its customers and increase brand loyalty.”

The team at the Telegraph researched the market, and developed an initial product that would assist in answering the key questions it had:

• Who would buy the app?

• Would they be Telegraph print readers?

• How would people use the device?

• Should it focus on live breaking news site or be a digital edition?

In September 2010 the free launch app went live, featuring a selection of stories from the website (the original title, ‘Best of Telegraph’ was rejected by Apple). Crucially, the group benefited from its ability to capture plenty of data, from three main sources.

• The readers -- 60,000 gave the developers their data following a request for user info on installation revealing info such as demographics -- half of users are aged 35 - 54.
    
• Analytics tracking installed on the app provided info on usage by time of day, day of  the week, and app control. This data showed that 90% of content was being consumed on a WiFi connection.
    
• 1,800 further users gave detailed, qualitative feedback via a form in the settings option of the app.

Results from the free app launch

• The launch app for iPad had 160,000 downloads over the six month lifecycle of the first app - 70,000 of whom were still active users by April 2011

• The average user accessed the app 7-10 times per month, with weekends twice as popular as the rest of the week. Usage peaked at 7am and after 9pm – proving essentially that 24-hour-old content still has value for the paper's iPad audience

• 20 minutes dwell time, 41 pages per use – roughly 8 times deeper access than on the web

The Telegraph product team then conducted further research surveying a further 20,000 users (response rate 32 per cent), ran eight focus groups and reviewed the competition.

What the users wanted

A ‘finite, “finish-able” experience’ – updated once per day, and including familiar elements from the paper, such as crosswords, cartoons, access to archive and a very popular Sudoku puzzle, says Rowell.

Unfortunately, for The Telegraph’s increasingly cash-strapped owners, Rowell says his mission also revealed an entrenched unwillingness to pay any extra for the expensive business of putting out editions specially made up for tablets.

Paid app launches

Undaunted, on 5th May 2011, The Telegraph launched its free-to-download paid iPad app, at £1.19 per day, now down to 69p, or £9.99 monthly, but ‘most importantly, free for all print subscribers – the bedrock of the business,’ points out Rowell.

Conclusions

• “iPad is not a direct substitute for print, *yet,*” says Rowell.

• Users want editorial guidance – they want editors to provide the hierarchy of what is important.
        
• Readers are definitely prepared to sign up for some subscriptions via iTunes.
    
• Content production is a headache; building the app is trivial.

• There are more over 55s with iPads than there are under 35s.
        
• Running costs are six times that of building the app itself.

• Advertising agencies and clients see the iPad app as a web product while newspapers see it as print. "We have to come up with a new metric," Rowell says.

• Apple's insistence that anything offered outside the Apple store has to be offered inside is a problem, but Apple seems willing to listen to publishers' concerns.
    
• Customer service is king – at least 100 people called to complain about the app not working turn out to be experiencing ‘issues’ because they're in airplane mode
    
• There is a definite fear of Apple in the media industry, but ‘they have definitely listened and learned’ says Rowell
    
• Finally, remember – with iTunes, 'they are trying to create a set of rules including disparate sets of content' – they won’t always get it right first time says Rowell

With tablet use only just catching on among the quality newspaper classes worldwide, the APA for one sees such apps as the possible saviour of what many say a moribund newspaper industry. There must be many more praying the APA's predictions are right.

“Recent research commissioned by the APA showed that 82% of respondents used their iPads several times a day, with 57% using their iPad for between one and four hours daily. This is a huge amount of time that brands can be engaging with customers,” says Hutchison.  

“As long as The Telegraph keeps listening to its readers, and ensures the customer journey is consistent and the content interesting, I cannot see why the iPad app will not continue to be a great success.”

Michael Fitzpatrick is a freelance technology journalist who resides in London, England.

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