In a previous post I underlined the big gap in usage between news aggregators and traditional media.
When compared side by side, news aggregators perform much better than other news applications and there are several key factors to explain this.
I emphasized that the user engagement with news aggregators was up to four times higher for mobile applications such as Feedly and News Republic than applications from the Washington Post and from the New York Times (Comscore October figures).
This trend is not limited to the US market. There are similar usage patterns in France, as you can see in the graph below.
It is very interesting to try and identify possible explanations for such a gap. The need for detailed data led me to work on News Republic, a news application published by my own company. It is very likely that the conclusions I reached are also valid for other news aggregators
As for any application, without doubt, design is a key component to increased usage. The ratings score displayed on iTunes and Google Play for traditional news application show the effort needed by the traditional news publishers to reach an acceptable perceived quality standard. Another relevant explanation is the freedom for users to follow news on specific subjects, including the ability to add Facebook and Twitter streams. But those reasons are not sufficient in themselves. Some aggregators’ apps have lower ratings than traditional media ones but they have higher usage. Furthermore, others, such as News Republic, do not offer Facebook and Twitter as news streams.
Another explanation would be to link the usage to the number of users. Typically, the more users an app has the lower the average level of usage. However in this context, it cannot be applied as the Feedly application has some 478,000 users which is the same as the Washington Post (Comscore US, October 2013) yet generates four times as much usage.
So the question remains: why? Clearly, we are no longer in a demand market but in a supply one. In the case of news, the more you supply news, the higher the usage.
Is the Long Tail Theory relevant for News?
In Wired, Chris Anderson established the brilliant long tail theory. He noted that, “The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.”
Professor David Bell, from Wharton University of Pennsylvania, demonstrated that the long tail theory is also valid for the geographical spread of e-commerce (follow this link to read David Bell theory).
To illustrate this with regard to the context of news aggregators, let’s take the case of the News Republic application. The user can predefine topics on the home screen. On the top left of the screen, Top News (cf picture) is displayed by default. The user can add or remove any topic at any time.
News Republic’s usage demonstrates similar patterns to the aforementioned phenomenon, which reinforces the validity of the long tail theory. Indeed, the category ‘Top News’ is usually the topic people most read in a traditional newspaper, and it represents twenty percent of the articles read on the News Republic application (1/3 if you also add the Breaking News stories sent to users, which represents 16 percent in itself). Eighty percent of the news read does not come from traditional media. Twenty percent of the news read is for minor topics and represents only 1 percent of the total articles read.
Results from similar analyses performed in Italy, Germany, Spain, UK and France show the same patterns.
It is impressive to see that the long tail theory is valid for so many pillars of the digital economy. The theory demonstrates the need for media groups to reinvent themselves, to capitalize on opportunities to meet the needs of news consumers worldwide as they embrace the digital market.