For publishers and editors looking to broaden their newspaper’s digital offerings, the emergence of tablets has been both a boon and a curse. Widely heralded as a path to new revenue streams and a way to reach a younger, more diverse audience, tablet publishing also presents an often overwhelming checklist of new skills to learn, strategies to brainstorm, and updates to be made.
Now, Microsoft has entered the fray with Windows 8, the most radical overhaul of the company’s venerable operating system since 1995. The new platform gives publishers one more potentially game-changing option to attract new readers to their products. Using the same interface for both desktop and mobile devices, Microsoft is pushing the tablet experience onto home computer users, creating an opportunity for newspapers to market and monetize their content to a new set of users.
Windows should be an important leg in any newsrooms’ digital media strategy. In its first month alone, about 40 million licenses to Windows 8 were sold on the market, making it a huge opportunity for newsrooms to engage a large audience of readers in a new and innovative way.
In addition, Windows 7 and Windows XP continue to dominate the marketplace for desktop operating systems, accounting for 44.71 percent and 39.82 percent of the market, respectively, according to market research firm Net Applications. By comparison, Apple’s OS X accounts for only 7.13 percent.
Both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have offered free news apps in the Windows Store since the launch of Windows 8 in October 2012. In both cases, users free have access to a top news section within the app, and are able to purchase digital subscriptions for full access to all content. Other newspapers, such as USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune, also have free apps available in the Windows Store.
When developing the New York Times’ app, mobile project manager Kamal Grey said the paper chose to take advantage of several bells and whistles that Windows 8 offers to developers, including snap mode, which allows users to have two different applications open at the same time, and live tiles, which allow users to pin any Times section or blog to the start page of their device in order to see the latest headline at a glance.
“We had to think carefully through all of the design decisions during the development process,” Grey said. “We knew we couldn’t predict what device the user was going to be on, so it had to be responsive to their screen and had to be touch-friendly.”
In addition to its own app, the Times is also a featured content provider in the Bing News app, which comes preinstalled on every device running Windows 8, exposing Times reporting to a significant number of users. According to Grey, this “presents an opportunity to drive users to our standalone New York Times Windows 8 app and experience our content that way. Both products offer in-app authentication for existing Times subscribers.”
Driving traffic on all platforms
The Financial Times is another paper that released a Windows 8 app in October, shortly after the launch of the new operating system and Windows Store.
“Mobile is an increasingly important channel for the Financial Times, driving 25 percent of traffic and 15 percent of subscriptions to FT.com,” said Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com. “(The Windows 8 app) extends the Financial Times mobile footprint across all three major tablet platforms, Windows, Apple, and Android, and ensures we offer readers the choice of reading Financial Times content anytime, anywhere, and on whichever device they choose.”
One key advantage to selling apps in the Windows 8 Store is the ability for newspapers to use their own commerce engine to manage subscriptions. This means newspapers that already have an e-commerce system in place to handle subscriptions can retain customer information from Windows users just as they would any other subscriber, as well as retain 100 percent of the revenue.
For newspapers that don’t have their own commerce engine but still want to develop a Windows 8 app, Microsoft takes the same 30 percent cut of revenue generated that has become an industry-wide standard since Apple launched its Newsstand feature in October 2011. The major difference between Windows and Apple is that once total revenue from app sales reaches $25,000, the revenue split shifts to 80/20, meaning newspapers will keep more of their revenue.
Not just for the major metros
Microsoft seems to have put in a lot of work to make it easy for newspapers lacking the resources of the New York Times to easily develop and market their own app. The company provides a bevy of tools to help newspapers create their app, such as templates and an entire tutorial devoted to walking through the options available to designers.
Newspapers can also promote their Windows apps from their own website with built-in promotion available through Internet Explorer 10. With a basic amount of coding, easy for most webmasters, the newspaper’s website will promote the app through an app button within the browser itself, visible to anyone running IE 10 on Windows 8.
Microsoft developers have focused their attention on making it easy for readers to find your app and overcome the issue of overcrowding that plagues so many app stores. “When we set out to build the Windows Store, we wanted to do the best job of connecting people to as many great apps as possible,” said Ted Dworkin, a program manager for the Windows Store.
So is a Windows 8 app right for your newspaper? It’s difficult to say, but considering the reach of the Windows operating system, and the limited barriers to entry, it’s definitely something worth considering.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and columnist for Editor & Publisher and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Digital Publishing is a new column by Rob Tornoe focusing on the latest digital trends and technology. It will appear regularly in each issue of E&P.