Posted on June 26, 2013 in Archive

How to make money in digital publishing


It’s hard to admit when you’re really excited by a set of statistics. Luckily, by the time I came across the summary of VisionMobile’s 4th Developer Economics report, everyone else in the office was already engrossed by it (Did I mention: we’re geeks?). Geeky or not, this explores how to make money in digital publishing.

I’ve been a big fan of VisionMobile’s…er, vision, ever since Phil and I were lucky enough to meet their Product Manager, Stijn Schuermans, (@stijnschuermans) at the World Publishing Expo last year. VisionMobile is working to fill a very visible gap – the lack of detailed, trustworthy data on apps and mobile platforms. Of course, they’re great on the industry analysis side, too.

Aside from the occasional press release put out by app stores touting ‘x many downloads per month’, there isn’t much information to help decide which platforms to develop for, let alone which countries to target or how best to monetise. Through surveys and research, VisionMobile puts together freely available reports which shed a lot more light on those questions.

But enough with the cross-promotion – what does this have to do with publishers?

The further publishers move into the territory of apps and mobile devices, the more they should pay attention to what developers are up to. There are three big trends in the report which publishers need to know about (all illustrated in the infographic below).

Trend #1: Multi-platform makes more money

The stats clearly show that the more platforms an app publisher supports, the more revenue they generate per app. The trend isn’t small, in fact, the increases in revenue get steeper the more platforms you support. Now, developers working on, say, 5 or 6 platforms at once are likely to be porting a highly successful app to more systems, so their increase in revenue isn’t surprising.

But at the lower end of the scale, the message clear: if there are people who will pay to read your content on an iPad, there are people who’ll pay on Android, too (and, almost certainly, Windows and Blackberry). It’s no longer good enough to just publish to iPad and cover your ears. Alternative platforms are emerging everywhere, which probably explains…

Trend #2: HTML5 apps are on the rise

HTML5 is a clear third behind Android and iOS as a popular development platform for apps. Its advantages are obvious: it offers a consistent experience across all mobile devices. On the other hand, HTML web apps are hard to monetise and don’t have as many features as native apps.

HTML should be seen not as competition, but rather as a complement to native platforms, and one that…[is] lowering barriers to entry and exit from these platforms.VisionMobile Developer Economics Report 2013

In other words, publishing as HTML5 through a Liquid State native app makes the best use of both technologies /shameless plug.

Trend #3: Subscriptions are underrated

Of all the ways to monetise apps, subscriptions are the least common. Yet they far outstrip any other method for generating revenue. To explain this disparity, the report points out that:

[A subscription] is not a model that any developer can use as it requires significant investment in ongoing, engaging content that consumers will pay for an a regular basis.
VisionMobile Developer Economics Report 2013

Provide ongoing, engaging content? That’s sounds a lot like what publishers do. Of course, some publications do sell digital subscriptions but, bizarrely, it’s not at all the most popular business model for media apps.

My guess is that the ideal digital subscription model is Netflix-style – access as much content as often as you want for a monthly fee. This gives you full flexibility over what you download and what you see.

By contrast, a magazine or newspaper subscription is still print-style and typically gives you access to a daily/monthly chunk of varied content, forcing you to sift through boring articles to find the ones you’re interested in. In fact, digital newspaper readers in the U.S. recently demanded more flexible subscription options. Smart publishers will take notice.

There you have it. The top 3 ways to make money in digital publishing, not copied from some stuffy print industry conference, but from a detailed analysis of the growing app economy.

Make money in digital publishing: [Infographic] Developer tools are the foundations of the app economy

The week’s most exciting infogrpahic.
Click to enlarge.