Beyond Print Toolkit: Moblie app revenue

Mobile apps are a powerful tool to drive subscriber acquisition and retention, as they can build habits in an era of exploding mobile usage. 

By Richard E. Brown

June 27, 2024

A hand holds a mobile phone against a bright blue background
Teodora ART / Shutterstock

For any news organization transitioning from print to digital, deciding to create a mobile app demands careful consideration. Mobile apps are a powerful tool to drive subscriber acquisition and retention, as they can build habits in an era of exploding mobile usage. 

But understanding the technical resources required, the needs of your audience, and the relationship between the app and your revenue strategy is crucial. A comprehensive game plan differentiating the app from your existing website and other products is important to help drive downloads and ultimately subscriptions. Like newsletters, mobile apps can re-engage readers through notifications, significantly contributing to subscription retention and audience engagement. While the benefits are substantial, the journey entails extensive upfront work, encompassing research, design, development, promotion, and ongoing commitment. This section of the Toolkit will walk you through the questions news organizations must answer to decide if an app is right for them and their digital subscription strategy. 

The essentials


While mobile applications can help attract and retain subscribers, app development can be expensive and the technical infrastructure to connect an app to your publishing system can be complicated. Before you embark on the app development process, you must be sure that an app will resonate with your audience and make a meaningful difference in reader revenue — questions that can be answered in part by surveys and other data on reader habits.. 

Creating a seamless user experience across devices

Developing a mobile app for your news organization goes beyond design. It’s crucial to consider how users will experience your app across different devices and operating systems, like iOS and Android. This means ensuring your content — data, images, articles, titles, and keywords — can be easily uploaded and optimized for various screen sizes and resolutions. For more on the technical set-up, check out the technology section

Understanding key differences between iOS and Android apps

Though your content may be the same across platforms, there are some key differences to be aware of when developing for iOS and Android:

  • Revenue sharing: Apple and Google take a cut from subscription sales, but the percentages differ. Apple takes 30% for the first year and 15% after, while Google Play takes a flat 15%.
  • Subscription management: On iOS, users subscribe directly within the app, and Apple handles billing. Android offers more flexibility, allowing users to subscribe within the app or directly through Google Play. This can create a less consistent user experience than iOS, as canceling subscriptions on Android might require going through Google Play settings in addition to the app itself.
  • App Store policies: Apple’s App Store policies have become stricter recently. Stay updated on these guidelines to avoid issues when offering subscriptions within your iOS app.

Accessibility matters

By including accessibility features like adjustable font sizes, screen readers, and voice commands, you cater to users with various needs. This holistic approach to user experience across platforms will enhance app adoption, user engagement, and reader retention.

Design and development

Design will be at the forefront throughout the app development process, emphasizing the overall user experience. It is the starting point and, more importantly, where you might realize the need for assistance or outsourcing. While many larger organizations have in-house designers and developers to build and maintain their apps, others — especially smaller organizations – turn to third-parties that offer services or templated designs. 

Solid and clean design is paramount. It should facilitate reader engagement and ensure a thorough comprehension and understanding of your content. Research from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism found that app design affected news organizations’ churn rates since apps are generally faster and more intuitive to use than mobile websites:

“An outlet’s churn rate also is affected by how readers consume its content. If you’re reading on a phone, for instance, it makes a difference whether you are using an internet browser or have downloaded the outlet’s application. ‘We found that people who were using the mobile browser were more likely to churn,’ [Edward] Malthouse, [research director of the Medill IMC Spiegel Research Center] said. ‘If you’re using the mobile app, you were much less likely to churn, or if you were using another device like a tablet or a PC.’

Malthouse recalled speaking with one newspaper chain representative who said its mobile experience had not been optimized for the phone except on the app. ‘So the obvious strategies are to get people to download your app and/or to be mobile-first in your web design,’ Malthouse said.”

Your mobile app should authentically embody your brand. It should feel like a continuation, making it easy for users to engage with your content while fostering a sense of continuity between your organization and the community it represents.

Data analytics

Integrating reporting and analytics into app development is paramount for assessing app performance, engagement metrics, and conversion rates. Leveraging these insights in your content strategy enhances user experience and optimizes monetization efforts. It’s essential to keep your audience and subscribers informed about new features or developments within your organization or the app itself. Throughout the platform’s development, prioritizing data utilization is crucial. Collaborate with a data engineer or your head of analytics to ensure proper tagging and seamless integration with the current analytics structure. Verify that everything functions efficiently and can be connected with minimal effort, and explore reporting automation where applicable.

The Apple App Store and Google Android offer platforms for accessing high-level data and insights regarding app performance. It’s crucial to integrate your app into existing Google Analytics reporting and other tools like Ably or Firebase.

Monetization and user engagement

Developing a successful news app demands a smart approach to content and monetization. Deciding what content goes in the app is crucial, but the ultimate goal is offering users something special they can’t get on your website or mobile site. This “premier value” could be exclusive articles, personalized news feeds, or interactive features. You can figure out content and monetization at different times. Focus on building a valuable app with great content first. However, thinking about monetization strategies alongside content planning can strengthen your app’s purpose and appeal to users.

For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer created an interactive food map directly in its app to help readers find nearby restaurants or bars by leveraging the location capabilities of their mobile phones and pairing that with Inquirer reviews and food coverage.  And Newsday, located on Long Island in New York, has its e-edition built right into its app, so readers can easily access a facsimile edition of the print paper. 

Remember, clarity matters. Ensure your app’s content flow, purchases, and advertising are consistent with your other platforms so users aren’t confused. While a good monetization model is essential, please keep it simple and user-friendly. Some complexities might be unavoidable, but prioritize ease of use. Ultimately, balance is critical. Craft a content strategy for your app that seamlessly transitions from print to digital. This smooth experience strengthens your brand and keeps users engaged and returning for more, paving the way for sustainable revenue. By prioritizing user experience, news organizations can build loyalty and a foundation for long-term success.

Respond to feedback

An app is a powerful tool for scaling and sustaining content, but its success hinges on a strategic plan for a user-first design. Foster an environment to actively solicit feedback and insights, promptly addressing issues and bugs. 

For example, in 2021 The Dallas Morning News heard from readers that they weren’t happy with having to navigate two separate apps for the paper’s e-edition and regular news updates. As a result, the outlet combined the two apps. “You now have the convenience of all our best journalism at your fingertips in whatever format you prefer, the ePaper’s digital replica of the daily print edition, or’s up-to-the-minute stories,” the Morning News wrote in an update to readers.

The goal is to make your app dynamic and engaging, enticing users to choose it as their primary news platform. Strive for an optimal user experience tailored to your audience, encouraging users to return daily. Implement a user feedback system paired with relevant data to respond to issues quickly, which is crucial for positive app store ratings. A streamlined process for addressing reviews, especially those related to platform updates, is paramount for maintaining a positive app reputation.

Key indicators

Post-development and implementation, the pivotal key performance indicator is the volume of app downloads in both the Play Store and the Apple Store. Monitoring the download rate, relying on reporting cadence for consumer engagement insight, and delving deeper to understand conversion rates from subscribers downloading the app are crucial steps. 

Publications looking to benchmark the size of their app audience would have to conduct a local or regional analysis on the “mobile-aptness” of the audience or subscriber base, but a typical solid adoption rate for an app would be approximately 3% – 8% of total readership downloading an app for a typical news organization. 

Assessing additional metrics, such as active users, engagement timeframes, and averages, provides a comprehensive view that directly influences reader revenue. Tracking if engaged readers are subscribing, coupled with a robust feedback and response operation procedure for app review ratings and bug reporting, contributes to immediate app enhancements and retains readers over a more extended period. 

Clear goals, constant testing, and feedback-driven adjustments are vital to keeping readers engaged, growing subscribers, and generating revenue from your app.


To ensure a successful app launch, thoroughly evaluate your testing capabilities before navigating the iOS and Android app stores. This assessment includes both internal and external aspects. Check if your app development partner provides effective A/B testing, usability assessments, and functionality checks. Additionally, confirm that your internal resources are ready to analyze user feedback and monitor performance post-launch. This comprehensive testing approach guarantees a seamless app experience, enhances user engagement, and establishes the foundation for sustainable revenue streams. 

User experience

The first place to start with is to focus on user experience and usability through basic A/B testing on design layout and usability for the reader.

A seamless user experience is crucial for your news app’s success. For example, A/B testing your navigation bar placement can ensure readers can easily find the content they’re looking for, fostering a positive first impression. 

The ultimate goal is to keep readers engaged with your app. A/B testing your content layout and design allows you to identify the structure that leads to:

  • Higher click-through rates: Test different layouts to see which encourages readers to click and delve deeper into articles.
  • Longer engagement times: Experiment with navigation designs and placements to discover the layout that keeps users reading multiple articles within your app.

By A/B testing these crucial elements, you can optimize your app for user experience, leading to increased reader engagement and ultimately, higher revenue through subscriptions.

Evaluate core functionalities, optimize user experience, and ensure effective onboarding and engagement communication is properly tested for function, form, and feasibility. Test different features, colors, and navigation points to understand what leads to higher engagement and any applicable conversion rates.


For effective monetization testing in your app development journey, align your pricing structure, paywall implementation, and advertising strategy with your website’s intent and premise. Test various models, layouts, formats, and placements to create a cohesive experience. Extend paywall concepts consistently across your website and app, ensuring a unified testing approach. Test paywalls based on user behaviors to identify patterns leading to higher conversions and engagement. 

The best app paywall model depends on the audience and goals. An app-only subscription might work well for a niche audience willing to pay extra for exclusive features. A bundled subscription can incentivize existing subscribers to explore the app and increase engagement.

In addition to subscriptions, news apps can leverage advertising and sponsorships. Targeted ads reach specific user groups within the app, while sponsorship packages offer day- or week-long share-of-voice visibility takeovers or targeted notifications for brands. This approach is especially valuable with a high user base (remember the 3-8% adoption rate). By exploring these options and tailoring them to your audience, you can find the optimal monetization strategy to generate revenue and fuel your app’s development.


Retention strategies are vital for long-term success. Establish a feedback loop to assess the impact on subscriber longevity and overall experience. Conduct surveys and research on different cohorts to gather insights and actively address post-launch reviews. Anticipate and plan for uninstallations by testing specific strategies that encourage longer-term commitments and engagement metrics, ultimately ensuring the success of your app in the competitive digital landscape.

Some common retention tactics include: 

  • Responding to reviews: Actively respond to both positive and negative app reviews in a timely and transparent manner. This demonstrates a commitment to user feedback and continuous improvement, addresses concerns, helps prevent future negative reviews, and helps maintain a higher average app rating.
  • Onboarding communication: Welcome new app users with informative emails highlighting the app’s benefits and features. This will help users understand the app’s value proposition and encourage them to explore its functionalities.
  • Win-Back communication: When subscribers pause or cancel their subscriptions, send targeted emails reminding them of the app’s exclusive features and the value they receive as subscribers.

By implementing a comprehensive communication strategy that addresses concerns, highlights value, and reminds users of the app’s benefits, news organizations can improve user retention and keep readers engaged within their app.


Launching your newly developed app requires thorough audience research and a compelling value proposition aligning with your news organization’s mission. Define clear objectives and goals, highlighting benefits and features in marketing campaigns to convey the app’s daily necessity to users. Pivotal to a successful launch and a smooth transition from print to digital is the emphasis on community engagement, reinforcing your mission and reader revenue strategy. Be prepared to promptly address security, customer issues, and bugs during launch while conducting daily performance analysis for issue resolution. Involve everyone in both pre-launch and post-launch phases. 

Drive downloads by strategically targeting communication to iOS and Android users, guiding them to the app stores. Although seemingly trivial, this step is often overlooked but proves crucial in your marketing strategy for effective communication.

To cultivate a flourishing news app, tackle user acquisition and retention simultaneously. Pre-launch buzz through social media campaigns and website teasers sparks early interest. Promote the app across your existing channels, like the newspaper’s website and social media. Emphasize the app’s value by clearly communicating benefits like exclusive content and user-friendly navigation. Keep users engaged with targeted push notifications for breaking news and personalized content recommendations. Finally, offer app-exclusive content, like in-depth coverage of major sporting events or exclusive interviews, to incentivize downloads and maintain user interest. Even after exclusive events, continue leveraging push notifications and personalized recommendations to keep users returning for more. This combined strategy fosters a compelling app experience, driving downloads, reader loyalty, and ultimately, increased subscription revenue.

Navigating the shift from print to digital is significant for many organizations across multiple industries. Developing a mobile app is a pivotal decision, promising impactful results on reader revenue. While requiring dedication, a well-crafted mobile app can amplify community connections and unlock significant reader revenue potential. This transformative journey demands a substantial personnel, time, and financial resources commitment. It involves delving into your news organization’s core values, conducting extensive research, meticulous design work, and navigating technical and user needs. Involving your audience in development ensures a more resonant and powerful tool for growth and sustainability. Aligning everything seamlessly, from print to online to the app, is crucial for profound development. As a community content provider, your commitment to excellence should be reflected in the app, aligning with the goal of better serving your community. By actively engaging users, learning from data, relentlessly testing, and embracing change, you can build an app that seamlessly connects your audience and boosts revenue in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

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