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How mobile apps are increasing monetisation opportunities for publishers

Apps are a great way to drive engagement with an audience and are creating both new revenue opportunities and breathing life back into old ones.

A woman looks at a mobile phone while at a laptop computer. by from Unsplash
The high levels of engagement that apps get with users has increased direct revenue opportunities for publishers. Photo by from

In the Pugpig weekly media bulletin, Pugpig’s consulting services director Kevin Anderson and digital growth consultant James Kember distill some of the best strategies and tactics that are driving growth in audiences, revenue and innovation at media businesses around the world.

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Business models are having to adapt to leverage engagement, not volume

Publisher business models that rely on volume over value are under pressure. At Pugpig Consulting we’ve been working with several publishers to combat this by developing app download and engagement strategies that deliver deeper audience relationships. Therefore, when we read an article in the Editor and Publisher Magazine which made the case for why mobile apps are an increasingly important tool to increase engagement, it piqued our interest.

The author, Digital Media Strategist Guy Tasaka, made an argument centred on digital experience. “Unlike websites, apps allow publishers to control the full user experience in a seamless, branded environment”, he noted. Apps are tailored to deliver content in a bespoke way that fits the brand and audience. Personalisation is more easily delivered and engaging content types like video and audio can be better embedded. Importantly, due to the nature of mobile websites, apps are also a significantly faster experience.

The article drew on stats from one of Guy’s former roles. As Head of Mobile Product and Strategy at a media company, he observed that the average desktop and mobile web user carried out just over 2 sessions per month, whereas an average app user accessed the platform almost 7 times more often (13.74 sessions per month). Those interactions were also longer. An average desktop session ran for 2 minutes and 50 seconds and mobile web for 1 minute and 36 seconds. However, app usage was significantly longer, with an average session totalling 4 minutes 35 seconds. This aligned with data that we compiled at Pugpig for our State of Digital Publishing report where we saw that time spent on apps was around 4 times greater than mobile web.

No wonder the app market has grown so much recently and is predicted to continue expanding. Data from Statista has shown that between 2017 and 2022 the amount of revenue generated by news and magazine apps almost tripled and it is forecast to almost double again by 2027.

The natural home for accessing a subscription

In his article, Guy quoted Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism Digital News Report that found 21% of U.S. adults paid for some form of digital news product. He noted that “apps provide a natural “home” for managing these subscriptions and accessing gated content”. Consumers have become to expect an app as a central component of a subscription package. Moreover, as they are great at increasing both the frequency and length of interaction, they help to reduce churn. As we’ve looked at previously, there is a direct correlation between engagement and retention.

Also, at Pugpig we’ve noticed an increase in the use of apps as acquisition tools. New functionality like external link entitlement has allowed publishers such as The Baltimore Banner to keep control of their subscriber data as well as 100% of their app store revenue. Traditionally, apps have been seen as a product purchased as part of a subscription, but they’ve been moving up the value chain.

The potential to revive advertising revenue

Another interesting piece of data from Guy’s E&P article was the incredible number of monthly adviews that he had seen on a mobile app (151), compared to desktop (10) or mobile web (7). As apps kept people within the platform for longer and encouraged them to view more content, they’d naturally have seen more adverts.

Furthermore, mobile apps have enhanced advertising opportunities that don’t rely on generating large volumes of traffic, which has provided more value to both publishers and advertisers. For Guy, sponsored content within an app can be blended into a news feed making it “reminiscent of social media marketing”. And the same techniques that drive engagement with content also help to drive engagement with ads. For example, push notifications can be used to direct audience segments to a sponsored article or encourage ad interaction. Ultimately, the outcome for the publisher is an advertising product that can compete with social and search and command a higher CPM.

However, whilst apps offer multiple opportunities to drive revenue through advertising and sponsorship, it’s vital that this does not come at the cost of user experience. Publishers experimenting with these approaches should avoid recreating poor website experiences in mobile apps. Because, if they do, the audience will go elsewhere.

Apps offer publishers a tailor-made platform to build deeper engagement with their audience. They’re full of features and tools that encourage users to engage and this has meant that apps are not only essential to serving core subscription products but have opened up new direct revenue opportunities. Done well, they even present an opportunity to compete with the social and search platforms for advertising spend.

Industry News

Here are some of the most important headlines about the business of news and publishing as well as strategies and tactics in product management, analytics and audience engagement.