But developing and designing good news apps and mobisites is a tricky business. In the latest instalment of her “Backstory” series, Gill Moodie writes exclusively for Journalism.co.za:
The Daily Sun has launched a mobile app recently – a move which is especially interesting considering the paper serves working class readers, many of whom do not own smartphones.
This move by the country’s biggest daily newspaper tells us how fast smartphone usage is growing in this country but it is also the next step in the paper’s unusually far-sighted bet on mobile.
Mobile traffic to SA’s online offerings has jumped radically in the past year, with most media outfits rolling out apps, mobisites and responsive websites to match the shift. The Daily Sun, however, got the jump on everyone when it skipped the website stage and went straight to mobi just before the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
“At the time a lot of us (in the newsroom) were saying: ‘We have to have a website’,” Ben Viljoen, the paper’s deputy editor, told Journalism.co.za last week, “and Deon (du Plessis, the paper’s late founder and publisher) said: ‘There’s absolutely no way. Our market is going to go straight to mobile’, which is ironic considering Deon couldn’t work his iPhone the day that he bought it.”
Last year’s State of the Newsroom study by Wits Journalism found that mobile traffic made up 40% plus of audiences to a number of SA news websites it surveyed while Viljoen told Journalism.co.za that 82% of the traffic to dailysun.co.za are mobile users.
This responsive website (it detects where users come from and changes accordingly), which has replaced the mobisite in the past month, attracts between 100 000 and 140 000 unique browers (UBs) a day.
Monthly UBs for January this year were 1 169 812 and page views were at 15 795 010. The average session duration was 5.12 minutes, which is good for a news site.
There were about 3 300 installs of the Daily Sun app by last week.
Viljoen says he believes that the paper’s design ethic has been carried through to the new site and app – something that was missing in the old mobisite – and there are interesting features such as up-voting comments (to send the most popular ones to the top of the thread) and being able to mark stories so you can read them later. While the app is for smartphones, the website will adapt for feature phones, which make up about 37% of the Daily Sun’s audience.
“The design is simple and straightforward,” Viljoen says, “but it has the bold headlines of the paper and it’s very picture driven, shortish stories. There’s no white space.”
The web/mobisite and the news app is run by three people in the Daily Sun newsroom using a custom-built content management system called Redactor.
Because the overheads are low, they are already making money, says Viljoen, and are having success with native advertising, for example, a recent back-to-school campaign with Shoprite, which had a competition element.
“As our readers come into smartphones, we want to grab them,” Viljoen says. “It’s not about moving your audience from print to digital. The aim is to grow the audience in general… Accountants like to make the distinction between different platforms (and their revenue). But from a newsroom perspective, the distinction between print and digital should fall away. It’s one product; different platforms.”
IOL Mobile and MyIndependent
Meanwhile, the other two new mobile news offerings in SA – IOL Mobile and the My Independent app launched last year – mark the Independent Newspapers’ first concerted push into the space.
Chris Borain, head of digital media at the Indy, told Journalism.co.za last week that IOL Mobile netted 81 509 UBs in January while My Independent is more of a tech experiment.
The app was designed within the Sekunjalo group – which leads the consortium that owns the Indy – and offers all the major news stories from the company’s newspapers, updated once a day.
“(The idea behind) the app was initially: ‘Let’s take a stab at this. Let’s get the tech right and then we can start playing with the content’,” Borain says. “We really just want to get out into the mobile space, where we haven’t been well represented in the past, see what the traction is, see how many people are looking at it, how often they’re looking at it.
“IOL Mobile is also a tester for us in the mobile space. (With IOL Mobile) we changed the CMS that we’re using to suck the content – and it allows us to roll out new titles or products on the fly, within a week. So it’s a process of getting the tech ready so we can roll things out.”
Borain estimates that about 30% of overall traffic to Independent’s digital properties come from mobile.
Eyewitness News (EWN) can now boast about 100 000 downloads for its app across iOS and Android, EWN’s online editor, Sheldon Morais, told Journalism.co.za.
The app, which was developed by an outside agency – the now-defunct Prezence – was launched in October 2013.
Morais says EWN has been learning what kind of content works best on mobile (chiefly breaking news for people to dip in and out of quickly while they are on the go) but user behaviour morphs in tandem with the development of more powerful smartphones.
“For instance, gone are the days when people only watch video on their desktops,” he says. “You’ve really got to make it engaging and compelling. Users are so savvy and they know what they want. If you don’t hook them, give them an experience or give them information they can take away – they’re going to leave your site really quickly.”
Designing and developing news apps is especially tricky, says Morais.
“News content is not straight up. There are issues like: ‘How do I share? How do I flick to related content?’ There might be a video attached to it. You can’t cram everything into one page because it’s not like a website on your computer with a bigger layout space. With mobile apps, you need to tie your related content together so, hopefully, you create a rabbit hole and people go on to other complementary content.”
Both Viljoen and Morais say that their mobile traffic dips during the working day – when people are at computers – and increases in the early morning and the evening.
For the Daily Sun, the evening mobile traffic picks up from 5pm, which coincides with the main commute after work.
(It is worth noting here that free wifi is being rolled out to taxis by Telkom and the SA National Taxi Council across SA.)
“This is very interesting for us,” says Viljoen, “because when we started (12 years ago), the Daily Sun’s distribution strategy was to take the paper to taxi and bus ranks and sell there.”
The launch of the Daily Sun’s new site and app also marks a shift to digital first.
“If it’s real breaking news, it will go online immediately and the paper will follow with a bigger piece. We can use the online version to gauge opinion very quickly,” says Viljoen. “We haven’t seen the growth in digital, which has been substantial for us, affect our readership… And I think we’re unlocking another market here – a younger market.”
The Daily Sun has a 5.3-million readership, according to Amps, while its circulation is at 260 000. Circulation has been in decline for some time, which the paper ascribes mostly to more readers sharing more copies because of the straightened economic times.
App expert Lynette Hundermark – who oversaw the team that designed the EWN app when she was at Prezence and now runs her own firm, Useful and Beautiful – says ease of use needs to be top of mind for developers and designers of apps and mobisites.
Further, she says, in South Africa one needs to research what kind of handsets your audience is using because the market is fragmented and because phones get passed on to other people.
“Despite the hype about iPhones and that Android is up and coming, we have to remember these are all new handsets. We tend to get lost in the new-handset sales and forget about what people are actually using. Even though the cheaper Android phones are between R500 and R700, this is still pricey in these times. People don’t automatically throw away what they currently have… And it makes sense to pass the phone down from generation to generation.
“It’s all well and good that you design this amazing, responsive site,” she says, “but it really depends on HOW you do the responsive site and make the best use of the real estate.
“A mobile screen is so tiny, you need to make effective use of that space. Also, very graphic intensive sites use a lot of bandwidth and a lot of data – and data is still expensive in this country.”
Hundermark says a good way to go in SA is to have two mobisites – one for high-end smartphone users with all the bells and whistles, and one for feature phones, which is less picture driven.
“If you try to deliver a high-end site to a feature phone, a). It’s not going to work very well and they will have a bad user experience and b). It’s going to drain the person’s battery. For feature phones, it’s best to deliver a low-end version with all the functionality but more text-based.”
- Daily Sun editor must lead the beast in difficult times, Journalism.co.za, Dec 2014
- Vids, vlogs and pods on the rise in SA newsrooms, Journalism.co.za, Dec 2014
- SA news apps & mobisites: what works best for your brand?, Grubstreet on Biznews.com, Nov 2013
- How to make a mobile news app: insights from Prezence’s Lynette Hundermark, Grubstreet on Biznews.com, Nov 2013