York Daily Record: Mobile app strategies that work

  • Jul 11, 2013

Andrea Merovich, Communications Manager

When it comes to mobile apps and mobile strategy, the York Daily Record staff is not afraid to try new things. They have successfully created, launched and maintained apps that not only market the newspaper and its content, but also meet the diversified needs of their readership. What’s more, the York Daily Record’s audience is growing as a result, and so is its revenue.

YDR’s mobile offerings
YDR offers a number of mobile apps tailored to its news content, including one YDR app for non-smart phones and another for smartphones, which pulls content from YDR.com. For iPad users, there is the YDR iPad app, which pulls content from YDR.com, but also takes full advantage of the presentation values of the iPad. Designed for tablet users who want the more traditional look of the newspaper, there’s an e-Edition specifically for the iPad. It’s a replica of the print edition and costs $10 a year for print subscribers or $199.40 a year for non-subscribers.

For local high school sports fans and athletes, there’s the GameTimePA smartphone app, which is regionalized for the YDR newsroom and each of its sister publications in Hanover, Lebanon and Chambersburg. Each localized version of the GameTimePA app offers news, stats and more direct from the newspaper’s popular high school sports website of the same name. Still under development is the GameTimePA’s high school football preview for iPad. The app will take the annual football preview to a whole new level with an enhanced iPad presentation of schedules, rosters, videos, interactives and insights into every football team in Franklin, Fulton, Adams, York, Lancaster and Lebanon counties.

Another app offered by YDR is Yard Sales PA for the iPhone and Android, which helps users find every yard sale scheduled in and around York County. The feed pulls from the paper’s classifieds and other sources. As the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg neared, the York Daily Record newsroom prepared for the event by producing the Gettysburg 150 app for the iPad. Gettysburg 150 is an informative e-magazine developed to commemorate the anniversary. “It’s design, navigation and functionality is unlike anything we have ever developed for any platform,” says Randy Parker, YDR managing editor. They also added e-books to their mobile repertoire with the electronic release of YDR editor James McClure’s “East of Gettysburg,” which recounts York County’s role in the Battle of Gettysburg. It is available on the Kindle for $9.99.

App creation and marketing
The majority of YDR’s mobile apps were created in conjunction with outside vendors selected by parent company Digital First Media. However, YDR created the most recent batch of apps in-house through the combined efforts of editors, copy editors and graphic artists. The small team taught themselves how to build apps using Adobe DPS (Digital Publishing Suite) and worked with their advertising and circulation departments to build revenue and audience. The net result generated Gettysburg 150, the GameTimePA high school football preview and the e-book.

Just as each of the apps is developed for different audiences, the marketing for each similarly differs. The main apps (YDR, GameTimePA for smartphone and Yard Sales PA) are marketed aggressively with in-paper and digital ads, billboards, signage at community events and more. A different approach is taken with the specialty apps (Gettysburg 150 and football preview) in order to reach more specific audiences. In-paper and digital ads are utilized, so too is social media and AdTaxi, Digital First Media’s digital ad network. The extra marketing efforts worked. For example, a woman in Hawaii found and now loves YDR’s Gettysburg 150 app.

The content for each app was adapted based on the platform and the intended audience. The core apps use a fast, skinny presentation designed to give smartphone users a quick navigation experience. With that presentation there is some loss of design elements, but it is easy to zip from one article to the next. When developing the GameTimePA app, YDR focused on the content of most value to its intended audience – live scores, livestreaming, stats, schedules, directions, cancellations, etc. News stories are still offered of course, but more emphasis is placed on the other content.

Tablet presentations allow for a greater focus on design. Like the core mobile apps, tablet apps are built for speed and ease of navigation, but also a brilliant display. “Our news app for iPad, for instance, offers a strong visual entry point. The same feed for smartphone, however, relies on tabs for content navigation and then an article that displays only one photo,” says Parker.

To charge or not to charge
The Gettysburg 150 iPad app was $1.99 per download and the GameTimePA football preview was slated to be 99 cents per download. The decision to charge was made as a hedge against success. The apps were built in Adobe DPS, which means Adobe takes a small cut per download. Apple does the same. YDR originally opted to charge for these apps as a way to retain advertising revenue. The company recently decided to offer both apps to iPad users for free.

There is a fee charged for the YDR e-Edition for iPad, which allows the newspaper to count it as actual circulation. “Also, we do not want to undercut print sales by giving away an exact replica of the paper,” says Parker. YDR requires an online subscription fee to gain access to content on its news website, but does not yet require a subscription for unlimited access to mobile content. “We feel it is important to gain as much traction as possible right now in the critical area of mobile audience,” Parker adds.

YDR’s apps came to fruition thanks in part to a mobile app development team made up of people from the newsroom, as well as the advertising, circulation and audience development departments. This team envisions and completes upcoming projects. There’s also a team to analyze engagement and audience growth for mobile in general, and staff members within the newsroom help monitor how well the apps are functioning throughout the day and night.

All of YDR’s hard work in the mobile landscape is paying off. The news media company is earning revenue in both mobile advertising and in app sales. It has seen just under 100,000 downloads of its mobile apps to date. “A rapid growth in mobile audience is a key reason why our overall audience continues to grow. This year, in fact, we saw our mobile audience eclipse our web audience,” comments Parker.

YDR plans to officially launch its next app, the GameTimePA high school football preview for iPad, by mid-August. Given YDR’s proactive approach to mobile strategy, it’s only a matter of time, however, until there’s another app in the works and on the market.

“We see mobile as an extremely important target, perhaps the most important target. At some point in the future, this is the platform that most people will be on most of the time. We think that time is nearly here,” says Parker. “It is critical that our industry aggressively pursue the high ground for news content on mobile. We also think it is important to help our community – readers and advertisers – accelerate toward a mobile environment. It’s a great way for people to find and share news, and it’s a great way for merchants to find and persuade potential customers.”

To learn more about the York Daily Record’s apps, visit the news organization’s mobile app web page.  
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