May 28, 2014 Last Updated 9:08 am

Wednesday column: Which digital strategy is best for your title: native or non-native?

Each Wednesday, Talking New Media invites digital publishing leaders to discuss industry topics, or explain and demonstrate the latest solutions involving digital media. This week’s columnist is Paul DeHart, CEO and President of BlueToad.

This is the conundrum confronting many publishers who offer digital versions of their content.  Offering both options to our customers and having handled thousands of publications on both platforms simultaneously, we at BlueToad have unique, nonpartisan perspective on the question.

Within the publishing industry, there are just as many ambassadors of native-only solutions as there are of non-native and hybrid solutions. With so many conflicting opinions, publishers remain confused and uncertain. To help gain clarity on the question, publishers may want to look beyond the inherent advantages and short comings of each platform and focus their efforts on developing a digital strategy that takes into account the entire content consumption journey.   As a result of mobile technology, a consumer’s content consumption journey may begin on one device and end on another. Readers often use phones to browse and “taste” content.  Laptops and desktops are still used to engage more fully with content while working.  Tablets and print are great for consumption while traveling, on the couch, or in bed.  Over the course of this journey, many devices and platforms might play a role in the big-picture consumption of content.

screen480x480For example, imagine that you are waiting for a friend to meet you for lunch at a restaurant. In this new mobile-centric world, you have the ability to transform this waiting period into a short burst of connectivity and consumption.  While waiting, you receive a push notification on your smartphone that the latest issue of your favorite industry publication is available.  You quickly explore a list of article headings and start reading a text version of an article that catches your eye.  Your friend arrives and you make a note to finish the article on your desktop when you have some time back at the office.  That evening, you finally free up enough to grab your tablet and take a deeper dive into the publication while relaxing in bed.  In this example, the consumption journey started on one type of device and transitioned to others.  This is the reality and challenge for publishers.  In each instance, there is a potential need and audience for native and non-native solutions.

Native apps currently offer some unique advantages over non-native alternatives.  They provide marketing value through an app store, the option of viewing offline content, and the ability to push notifications to readers.  We have found that the most successful native app strategies are centered on ease and simplicity.  A publisher’s goal should be to reach as many platforms and as large an audience as possible while minimizing effort and cost.

While native apps are compelling, non-native solutions like HTML 5 are equally engaging and should be an important part of any digital strategy.  At BlueToad, we recently looked at twelve months of aggregated reader data for our publishers who have native apps on the market.  This group accounts for nearly 1,500 unique native app submissions through Apple, Amazon, Windows 8, and other native platforms.  As expected, we found that native app reader engagement grew over the past year.  Interestingly, however, we also discovered that non-native reader engagement grew at an even faster rate – by 13% over the past year for these same titles with native app alternatives.  Overall, 53% of consumers still accessed the content for these titles via non-native platforms like HTML 5.  Publishers might be surprised to find that a strategy focused only on native apps could fail to reach and engage half of their potential audience.

A few developments have led to the success of non-native platforms.  First, HTML 5 specifically is a continually improving platform that can now nearly mimic the look and feel of a native app experience.  Second, the ubiquity of the internet connection is making content more available and more stable in this “connected” environment.  Finally, there are fewer barriers to accessing content in non-native platforms – no apps to download, no issues to download, and no storage space to consider.  A reader need only click on a link to start consuming content.  This simplicity means HTML 5 is also inherently easier to share on – and even directly view within – social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn.

At BlueToad, we support native and non-native platforms because we believe that they both play important roles in the content consumption journey.  Digital success seems to be better tied to a publisher’s ability to easily deploy content across multiple platforms and ultimately reach their greater potential audience.


Paul DeHart is CEO and Presiden of BlueToad

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