New Telegraph app strategy: Unified app helps boost subscriptions

Telegraph's combined app helped drive new subscriptions despite Apple rules, says product chief

The Telegraph’s director of product has said the title’s new app strategy has been a “key enabler” in the company hitting its 2021 subscriber goals.

But he indicated that Apple’s high fees on in-app purchases were holding the publisher back.

Before the new app became active in April 2021, the newspaper had been reliant on two separate apps – ‘Live’ that covered news as it appeared on the Telegraph’s website and ‘Edition’ which was a digital version of the print editions. The new app combines the two systems and adds more content curation and personalisation for users.

When the new app was launched the Telegraph had just celebrated passing 603,000 paid print/digital subscribers.

By December, the outlet reported reaching 720,250 subscribers, surpassing its goal for the year by 250. The 2021 target formed part of the Telegraph’s plan to hit 1 million subscribers by 2023.

Speaking at a virtual event on successful news app strategy, hosted by digital publishing app Twipe, Telegraph director of product Mathias Douchet also reported that the average rating for the Telegraph app on the iOS App Store had risen from 4.0 stars to 4.3 stars out of five.

The Telegraph app is free on IoS and Android. Douchet said the app’s main role was to provide value to those who subscribe directly via the Telegraph website, rather than garnering subscriptions in and of itself. This strategy avoids sharing subscription revenue with app store owners such as  Apple and Google.

Douchet told the event: “Having one app has clear advantages. It’s easier to manage internally, meaning less infrastructure, less cost, less confusion for the users. You don’t know like how many times people were just unable to identify which of the two apps they were using.”

“And for us, it was in line with our strategy for subscription and this idea of making things simple. I think it’s important for us. We want everything to be simple for the users.”

He added: “A comparison I always take is around how Spotify manage their product. So they have albums, they have playlists, but they don’t have two different apps for albums and playlists.”

Douchet said the decision to base the app on the website had been risky, but still gave some room for them to differentiate the app from the website.

“Anything that does not directly contribute to the reading experience has been removed…. No SEO code, no advertising or cookies. Nothing like this. And changes not only make the experience cleaner, but they also make it faster,” he said.

“We took a risk. And I have to say that until like the very last moment I was worried that our ‘live’ app experience will not feel enough like an app but it did pay,” concluded Douchet. “The new app has been a key enabler in achieving the target subscription growth in 2021.”

The ‘walled gardens’ of the app stores run by Apple for iOS and Google for Android are totally controlled by the two tech giants, with them charging all companies a fee for transactions that happen.

Apple was taken to court last year by Epic Games, the developer of video game Fortnite, after it tried to stop paying a 30% share of in-game micro-transactions on its app to Apple.

After the ensuing court case, Apple was ordered to remove restrictions banning developers from linking to third-party payment sites (i.e. cutting Apple out of its cut). However, Apple continues to fight against implementing the change in the courts.

Douchet said that until those changes were made, prioritising an app-driven subscription drive would be pointless. He said that if Apple did allow linking to subscription sites outside its walled-garden it would be a “game changer” for the title.

According to the most recent digital subscription rankings by Press Gazette, The Telegraph is the 14th most popular news website in the world when it comes to paid-for subscriptions.

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