Native Apps are Better for Engagement, Worse for Revenues and Retention

The newest quandary for publishers? Whether to go native or not on the tablet.

B2B publisher GIE Media found that their audience engaged more with a native tablet app of its magazine “A Garden Life” than the flipboard app.

“We see engagement of roughly 47 minutes per entrance into the [native] app, which is huge,” Chris Foster, President and COO of GIE Media told Talking New Media.

For the uninitiated, a native app is a downloadable piece of software written for a specific platform, like the iPad. Different platforms use different coding languages — Android uses Java, Apple/iOS uses Objective-C, and Microsoft Mobile uses Visual C++.

A web-based app uses HTML5, CSS5 or Javascript and can be used on any platform. The Flipboard app is a web-based app that also incorporates stories from other magazines through RSS feeds.

There are other pros and cons to the native vs. web app debate. For one, the native app requires a download and memory on a user’s device, but the content can then be viewed without Internet access. A Web-based app requires Internet access to view content. But on the flip side, it updates automatically, whereas a native app must be manually updated by the user.

There’s also significant difference in monetization and customer relations. Native apps can only be sold through a platform, like Apple’s Newsstand. Developers have the ability to charge a download price (though most don’t), but the app store will handle the purchase, usually taking a percentage of sales and not giving publishers marketing data, like customer email addresses or credit cards.

Web-based apps allows publishers to integrate sales and marketing info into their existing CRM database, which makes retention easier. They also allow publishers to retain 100% of sales revenues.

But if audiences are more engaged (and therefore more likely to renew a subscription) through native apps, are the pros of Web-based apps worth the lower subscriber numbers? The Financial Times seems to think so, but B2B publishers with less technological resources might disagree.

Image: (c) meedanphotos via flickr.


  1. says

    Publishers can have the best of all worlds by having a third-party e-commerce provider such as Press+ handle the payments, authentications, authorizations, etc., across all digital versions. Publishers keep the subscriber relationship (not Apple, eg) and consumers get the benefit of one all-access account. The data from the 400-plus publishers using Press+ is that this leads to more subscription sales.

  2. MInalB21 says

    I’m a bit confused. How can you have a native app that’s not sold through the Apple store (and therefore, unable to provide you with data)? Even if you sell through your site, some people will buy through iTunes and you won’t have data on them. Plus, selling through your sites assumes your bundling, but that may not be the best option for some publications (see our recent post on un-bundling trends and The Economist).