The rise of the app and Asia’s digital publishing future

The penetration of sophisticated handsets into Asian markets is growing rapidly, as is the demand for content. Ahead of the upcoming Apps World Asia 2011 in Singapore, two of the show’s experts share their thoughts on what the trend means for publishers.

The race is on for content creators, publishers, news organisations and everyone in between to meet the ever changing needs of their audiences. Olivier Legrand, General Manager, Asia Pacific for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Digital Network, says his team has stayed ahead of the curve by ensuring that the newest techniques are implemented quickly.

WSJ has rapidly expanded its digital and online teams, including adding web designers, UI architects and mobile product managers, and the firm has already recorded more than a million downloads of its Asia news app. “You need to take technology seriously and invest in the necessary tools and resources to stay ahead,” he says.

Legrand says getting these tools into the hands of the editorial staff, however, is crucial in order to drive engagement. “This has become a serious effort for the Journal’s editorial team, evidenced by our popular Real Time blogs online in Asia and newly launched Asia Today video reports.”

For smaller players without the big bucks to spend, though, simply expanding the digital team might not always be an option. What are the key things for content providers to consider when negotiating their forays into this new and rapidly changing environment?

Whether you should go for a native app at all, or opt for a universal web-based alternative is an important question, not just for publishers, but for marketers and digital professionals across the industry. Native apps are more in vogue, more easily integrated with devices and often offer opportunity for far deeper personalisation and engagement.

Being native also means being restricted to one platform, though, and there are a number of advantages to a web-based app. London’s Financial Times for instance, in reaction to tough controls implemented by Apple’s App Store, devised its own, web-based app which now one of the most used news apps in the UK.

Wendy Hogan, VP and Managing Director of CBS Interactive in the region is reticent on the native vs web debate, but can sympathise with the situation many smaller publishers find themselves in. “People want the choice of interacting with the brand and your content whenever and however it suits them,” she says.

“The native or web app question really depends on the type of content offering you have,” she muses. “If it’s just content and information rather than a service or utility, do you really need a native app? Can you deal with a web app that’s applicable to all devices?

“There’s more and more choice for consumers when it comes to devices and platforms,” she adds. “Which is the best way to go when you’re time poor and probably don’t have the budget to invest in an app for every one?”

Asia-based publishers face the added headache of a wide dispersion of different languages. At WSJ, Olivier Legrand says as new markets begin to warm up, they are seeing a whole new demand for localised native language apps. In China, the organisation has extended its reach to 350 000 readers through its Chinese iPhone and iPad apps. In Japan, its local language iPhone and iPad apps have been downloaded more than 150 000 times.

It’s an issue which Hogan admits CBS could do more to deal with.

“It’s a question of whether you invest the time in producing different content for many native languages or whether you just go with the most common denominator, usually English,” she says. “It’s a decision publishers have to make for themselves.”

The fundamental challenge is making content as accessible as possible and requires bearing in mind the nature of your offering and the browsing or download capabilities of your target audience. In a region like Asia, spanning many different markets over a multitude of varying levels of development, this is more complicated than it might sound.

There are a number of markets across Asia where the feature phone still rules and where people use their handsets to access social media and rudimentary web browsers. And although you couldn’t describe many of these as app environments right now, this is where the app explosion will be most powerful.

A lot of these markets are skipping desktop-based web browsing altogether, says Hogan, “Being aware of that and developing content for different screen sizes and different engagement is important for publishing moving forward,” she adds. “Whichever way you look at it, it’s no longer acceptable to simply be a magazine on the web.”



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