News Apps Are Dying Off. But in a Way, They’ll Live On
Two years ago, the New York Times app was essentially a copy of the publication’s mobile website. But around the same time, a much different Times app appeared in app stores as a unqique alternative. The NYT Now app, designed to attract a younger audience to the Times, offered quick summaries of major stories that were easy to scan on a mobile device. Its morning and evening news briefs got you up to speed on the day’s events during your rush-hour hustle. It even linked to stories on other sites. Most importantly, it gave the Times space to experiment with mobile devices as medium for news.
But now those experiments are coming to an end. The Times is pulling NYT Now from the app store at the end of the month and will stop updating the app in September.
For dedicated users of the app, the Times‘ decision is disappointing. But it’s not surprising. These days, most people only regularly interact with a handful of apps. Facebook and other social media apps monopolize the public’s attention, making it hard for publishers to build audiences for their standalone apps. That imbalance also puts immense pressure on news outlets to make their stories shareable on social media. (About 62 percent of US adults get at least some of their news from Facebook or other social media sites, according to a Pew survey published last year.)
Sharing isn’t a problem on NYT Now, but publishers hoping to create apps that readers would interact with like they do print publications have struggled. Apps like Circa and The Magazine shut down entirely. Meanwhile, the digital magazine The Atavist shuttered its app in favor of focusing on articles that readers could read—and more importantly, share—on the open web.
Despite its demise, parts of NYT Now will live on. The popular daily briefing is now a part of the Times‘ main app, which has also taken on the more conversational tone of NYT Now. Times editor for innovation and strategy Kinsey Wilson says NYT Now has outlived its purpose. “According to Comscore, half of the core app’s audience is under 35,” he says. “A year ago it was 35 percent.”
Wilson says the more agile approach to digital experiments that bred NYT Now has spread across the entire Times organization, which makes having what was essentially a test bed app less of a priority. For example, the company recently launched a Facebook Live channel, a project he says would have been a long and difficult undertaking a few years ago. Shuttering NYT Now will free up staff to work on new projects.
At the same time, the main app is likely to make more money for the Times. NYT Now offered only a fraction of the stories the newspaper published each day but offered unlimited access to those selection of stories for free. (Initially NYT Now was a paid app but cost less than a regular Times subscription.) The main Times app, on the other hand, allows readers to view only 10 articles per month for free.
Still, the Times isn’t giving up on apps. In addition to the main Times app, the company will continue to support its cooking, crossword, and other apps—at least for now. At the moment, the Times is one of the few publications that can still command a large following on its own site and apps. And narrowing its focus will make it easier to promote the apps it continues to support. For smaller publications, however, apps won’t likely play a big role in their futures—at least not their own.