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Newspaper Publishers on the App Trail

22 Feb 2010

With an estimated five million Australians already accessing content on their mobile phones, and numbers expected to grow, top newspaper publishers News Limited and Fairfax Media are gearing up their launches into this market as reported in The Australian.

Both achieved encouraging results last year with their first releases of purpose-built iPhone applications, such as SuperRacing (from News) and Good Food Guide 2010 (from Fairfax).

Last week, News followed up with the release of a mobile version of its popular AFL fantasy team game SuperCoach, which as of Friday was the top paid sports app in Apple's local iTunes store.

SuperCoach is expected to surpass 10,000 sales this week at $3.99 a pop, says .au editor Matthew Pinkney, who oversaw its development.

Next out will be another AFL app, SuperFooty, which will provide video, stats and match updates throughout the upcoming season. editor Matthew Pinkney says, "We have ideas for other ones, once we get an idea of the appetite for these things. It's such an untested market for us."

Paz Saavedra, senior product manager mobile for News Digital Media, told The Australian the company is reviewing all its brands to see which ones may work as apps.

Mobile content delivery "is starting to take hold now", she says. "As people become more comfortable accessing content on their mobile phones (we believe it) will become their first option over the PC and laptop. It's so much easier to use your phone."

Fairfax Digital this month unveiled plans to release the first masthead apps, for its titles The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, Brisbane Times and WA Today, before the end of the financial year.

The apps will have "a lot of value add-ons", Pippa Leary, managing director of Fairfax Digital's media division, told The Australian. In particular, demand for long-form video, as opposed to short grabs, is emerging. "For a breaking story, people want to see motion media -- the moving images. And then they'll read the story," she says.

However Leary stresses; "What we don't want to do is create a whole lot of content and just push it out there."

Just as publishers get their heads around the smartphone, the next technology is right around the corner in the shape of Apple's massively hyped iPad, which is due to arrive in Australia next month -- shortly ahead of the dozens of other tablet devices reportedly under development.

How tablets will change media consumption habits, if at all, remains anyone's guess. But the publishers aren't taking any chances.

"Given they haven't arrived in Australia yet it's a bit difficult. But in a conceptual sense we're thinking about what we can do on the iPad all the time," says Pinkney.

"This could be a game-changer for newspapers on the internet and if we're not in that space when that device becomes popular we've got no hope."

Fairfax is working with other newspapers around the world "looking particularly at how you optimise the iPad and other tablet devices", says Leary.

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