In My Opinion: Michael Romilly: The Guardian iPhone app ‘raises the bar’ for newspaper bosses

WITH the recent release of their iPhone application, The Guardian newspaper has ‘raised the bar’ for 2010 – in the race to profitably translate content from newsprint to other platforms.

For your £2.39 (an one-off payment), you get a regular stream of news and features, which you can even browse without a live internet connection. You also have the ability to personalise and curate news in real-time – for instance, aggregating stories about technology.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if 2010 sees some bolt-on services – such as access to the paper’s archive – that will incur additional charges (and therefore provide additional revenue for the publisher).

The rapid and mainstream adoption of wireless, handheld mobile devices will continue to influence the migration of print publications towards the web.

The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph and Time Magazine have also launched applications for the iPhone. It has already reached the stage that the mobile market is too compelling for traditional print publications to ignore.

Despite the fact that appearing in the iTunes apps store needs, first, approval from Apple, and then involves paying over 30 per cent of income earned, no newspaper publisher can afford not to be part of this brave new world.

And if the iPhone platform isn’t enough, there are also Google Android, Symbian and Windows Mobile to consider as potential suitors.

Gone are the days when a newspaper’s online content is simply a website. The modern smart phone user demands information immediately, not when they are finally able to sit down at their desk, in front of their computer screen.

Of course, websites can be accessed via a mobile phone, but few are optimised for the mobile phone, visually (few order their content for easy scrolling on a mobile phone screen) or in terms of functionality.

The Guardian app is redefining the art of content curation and distribution. However, the likes of News International have taken a different approach. Their strategy prevents Google trawling specific pages on the web, in an attempt to ‘paywall’ seemingly exclusive content.

It’s a strategy that, to succeed, will need to recognise people’s demand for immediate information and that so much high-quality content – including news – will always be out there, available for free.

The Guardian iPhone application is well-priced. People will buy it on impulse, not least because it will feel like an one-off purchase, even if there might be, later on, requests to purchase additional content. Every day, people are deciding whether or not to buy a newspaper, and fewer are feeling inclined to do so.

As newspapers suffer a fall in income through declining sales, the question is whether the likes of an iPhone application can make up the revenue shortfall.

The only certainty is that, as user habits change, publishers need to embrace the significance of smart phones and the latest web technology.

Or face the consequences.

Michael Romilly is managing director of Dundee-based Waracle Ltd, which develops publishing platforms for mobile and web. Waracle developers enable new revenue streams through iPhone, Google Android and Symbian. The company recently installed a fully-integrated social media platform for The Herald & Times Group. The software utilises discussion forums, user profiles, interest groups, pictures and video.