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Guardian newspaper’s paid app won’t resolve advertising shortfall issue

December 17, 2009

Andy Bovingdon is vice president of product marketing at Bango

Andy Bovingdon is vice president of product marketing at Bango

By Andy Bovingdon

Charging for mobile application downloads is not the answer to declining ad revenues.

This week saw The Guardian, one of the leading British newspapers, launch a new iPhone application (see story). I know there is nothing interesting in that alone, as all the newspapers have been jumping on that crowded bandwagon. But unlike other newspapers the Guardian chose to charge people to download the application – a significant change from the standard model of free access.

While it is evident that the Guardian is trying to capitalize on iPhone users’ apparent willingness to pay for applications, it does raise questions about whether those same users would equally pay for the actual content rather than the packaging?

And will more iPhone users view Guardian news through an application that is launched from a familiar icon than accessing the news by entering the Guardian Web site URL in their browser?

Are iPhone users so foolish that they would rather pay to click a little icon than get full, free access to the news through the main Web site – is entering a URL that hard?

The Guardian online is one of the most popular Web sites and its Web team should be congratulated on delivering such a great Web experience from a mobile phone.

Paid content versus paid app
With ad revenues currently in question it is obvious why the Guardian and other newspapers are so keen to explore other revenue streams.

Since iPhone applications are the flavor of the month it is easy to deliver one at a cost rather than free – but this is a lazy move that does not address the real revenue problems the paper is facing.

A one-time payment for a simple iPhone application is not going to resolve its ongoing advertising problems, especially while the very same news remains free for its smarter mobile readers via the Web site.

Perhaps the Guardian could not work out how to implement a simple payment scheme that would work for mobile readers.

Charging for an iPhone application appears an easy step, but the costs of maintaining an application greatly outweigh the benefits in this instance, especially if the Guardian also launches it on other handsets. It must have more readers with a BlackBerry surely.

Newspapers such as the Guardian need to realize that charging to read content on a mobile phone is simple with the right billing platform – certainly easier and more cost-effective than building and maintaining applications.

It is already possible to charge per article or to access areas for a period of time or for an ongoing daily, weekly or monthly subscription.

So my message to the Guardian and other newspapers is that with such flexibility available to bill mobile content and services, it is time to charge if you think your content is worth it.

Andy Bovingdon is Cambridge, England-based vice president of product marketing of Bango, a provider of mobile billing and mobile analytics services. Reach him at

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