Wall Street Journal Bets On Moment-Based Apps

wsj-whats-newsThe Wall Street Journal plans to increase subscriptions by creating mobile-specific experiences with its What’s News and London-focused WSJ City apps.

The two apps appeal to specific reader needs, unlike the main WSJ app’s broader reach. What’s News features top stories users can scan on a subway or in an elevator. WSJ City offers a curated peek into what’s trending for London’s business community.

Just over a year old, What’s News averages 60,000 weekly visits and has been downloaded at least 100,000 times.

A sticky experience should attract more paying subscribers, a key business goal. Globally, digital accounts for almost half of all WSJ subscribers. Dow Jones set a mandate to reach 3 million members across its print and digital publications by 2017, up from 2.5 million today.

“We know that the lion’s share of [subscriber] growth will come from digital and mobile phones,” said Dow Jones Chief Innovation Officer Edward Roussel. He helms the Journal’s innovation unit, which launched 18 months ago to position the publication for the future.

The Journal not only wanted to create mobile apps tailored for phones, it wanted to change how it developed the apps. So it enlisted Etch, an accelerator agency.

Etch focuses on getting a minimum viable product into the market before quickly expanding it. Once the team worked out the template for What’s News, it adapted it to create WSJ City within a month. The Journal is considering launching new apps for areas in Asia next.

“They wanted this to be not just a product, but a platform to launch these niche content experiences,” said Shawn Busteed, a managing partner at Etch who helped oversee the project.

To improve the app, the Journal focuses on engagement metrics, such as time spent, then adjusts features accordingly.

“The ethos of spending time perfecting a product is beginning to die away,” said Maani Safa, managing partner at Etch. “It’s a quick, iterative build where you’re doing something as fast as possible to get learnings back from analytics and data right away.”

The team focused on identifying parts of the app that most engaged users and finding ways to expand them. For example, those who followed content topics, such as the Federal Reserve, markets or the election, spent 45% more time in the app than those who didn’t, Roussel said. So the Journal is adding more “follow” categories and brainstorming other ways to personalize the app experience.

The What’s News app displays markets data in a uniquely mobile way, via a scrolling stock ticker readers can accelerate by swiping through.

“Markets data is typically hard to design for a mobile app,” Roussel said. “But it’s a very high value-add for our audience, which is very focused on business and finance.”

Weekly users of the app return three times a day, a signal that’s encouraging for subscriber retention.

“You see a lot more stickiness with the native app experience because you can focus more on engagement,” Roussel said. “With apps, you get deeper behavior, but you don’t get wider behavior. If you want to reach a wide range of people, the mobile web will achieve that.”

Attracting subscribers through a proprietary app also ensures that the Journal doesn’t lose control of its experience to platforms.

“We strongly believe we are in control of our own core platforms, and we will never give that up,” Roussel said. “Publishers that in effect have given up their own platforms – it’s a dangerous model for them to pursue.”

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