The app won’t die. Despite the recent flood of attention to responsive Web design, with its promise to provide users a consistent experience across devices, publishers—even the most progressive—remain committed to stand-alone mobile apps.
Take BuzzFeed. The social news site would seem a likely candidate to shun walled-off apps as mobile Web traffic continues to grow. But that’s not the case.
“Responsive design has a lot of buzz right now, but it’s not a blanket solution that can be applied everywhere,” emailed Chris Johanesen, BuzzFeed’s vp of product. “While it would be nice, in theory, to have one solution that worked everywhere, if you want to ensure everyone has the best experience possible, you need to optimize for many devices and use cases.”
Publishers whose business model relies heavily on ink-on-paper subscriptions won’t be giving up on apps, though, since digital editions can be counted as paid circulation, on which ad sales are based. Apps are key to Time Inc.’s strategy, said Perry Solomon, vp, digital business development, adding that the “consumer response to our digital magazines on tablets and phones has been incredibly strong.”
The New York Times echoed that point. The Times’ iOS and Android apps have been “very sound investments,” with “incredible audiences” and “great subscriber bases,” said Alexandra Hardiman, executive director of mobile products. In fact, the Times doesn’t view mobile Web and apps as an either-or, Hardiman added. “We have a very robust mobile Web strategy and a very robust app strategy,” she said.
Similarly, The New Republic sees a role for both. The mobile Web and desktop experiences are a way to introduce the brand to new readers—and hopefully subscribers—while its tablet app is more curated and print-like, said Chris Hughes, publisher and editor in chief.
Still, others see little need for apps. When launching its new business brand Quartz, Atlantic Media thought the best way to gain exposure for a brand-new property was to go to the open Web.
But that doesn’t mean Quartz is vehemently anti-app. “If there are services or features or functionality that can be better rendered in an app environment, we would 100 percent explore that,” said publisher Jay Lauf. “There’s no dogmatic opposition to an app.”
CollegeHumor, for one, gets a lot more visibility from the mobile Web than its little-used apps, not surprisingly, given the viral nature of its content. “People are finding it because you saw a Facebook link or a Twitter link or a Tumblr link,” said CEO Paul Greenberg.
Ultimately, every publisher has a unique set of needs, said David Rittenhouse, managing director at Neo@Ogilvy. But apps still have some allure. “I would say it’s too early to call the end of the app right now,” he said.