News.me launches iPad aggregator with AP, New York Times, AOL as media partners
The news aggregator News.me launched Thursday morning as a subscription iPad app, with support from more than 20 major media outlets.
Built by Betaworks, the app aggregates and filters news from a wide variety of sources, but will pay a licensing fee to official media partners in return for use of their content. Articles from those partners has been reformatted for the “best reading experience” on the iPad according to an FAQ on the company’s website.
Consumer access to the app costs $0.99 a week, or $34.99 a year. Partners will receive a “fixed fee” for each unique page view; the company has not publicly stated what that fee will be.
News.me has been in development since last year and was submitted to the iTunes store in March. Peter Kafka at All Things Digital noted on Tuesday night that the app’s website had been updated to “coming soon,” and detailed information for consumers and publishers had been added.
Like competitors Zite and Flipboard, News.me attempts to both filter and personalize a user’s news reading experience. Each of these apps, along with a handful of other competitors, has drawn the attention, and sometimes the ire, of publishers for ingesting original content and repackaging it in a way that separates readers from the original brand and separates advertising from the content.
News.Me's advantage: Media partners
However, News.Me is launching with at least 22 major media partners, giving it a possible advantage over its rivals. Flipboard launched its media-focused product -- Flipboard Pages -- several months after its debut and has 20 partners in the “pre-revenue” testing phase of the initiative. Zite launched in March and has announced plans to share advertising revenue with partners in the future.
The New York Times R&D team originally conceived of the News.me app, and did the early development. The paper transitioned it to Betaworks in return for an equity stake in its subsidiary Bitly, but stayed involved in the development process.
Among the first publishers on board are the Times and The Boston Globe, as well as the Associated Press, Forbes and Fast Company. Digital-only outlets are also involved including AOL News, Gawker, GigaOm, Mashable, RedWriteWeb and SB Nation.
The app features partner content, but according to the company, other media sources will also be aggregated. However, only partners will receive a revenue share, enhanced presentation options and in-app promotional opportunities.
News.me relies on users' Twitter streams and feedback from Bit.ly short URL traffic to gauge interests and the popularity of individual stories. Publishers who use Bit.ly are more likely to appear in user’s News.me news streams.
News.me also allows users to monitor the streams of people they follow on Twitter who are also News.Me users. To seed that feature, the company has selected a handful of “featured users” that anyone using News.me will be able to access.
Articles, photos and videos are presented in both a “Web view” from the publisher’s site, and in a “streamlined” ad-free presentation similar to Instapaper.
A daily email digest is also available, powered by the same filtering of the user’s Twitter streams. According to News.me, those links will lead back to the publisher’s original website, “building traffic for those sites.”
Earlier this month I outlined six things I thought News.me needed to do to catch on with consumers, and beat the competition.
On ease-of-set-up, News.me appears to pass the test – users simply connect their Twitter feeds and the filtering and personalization should work.
Early screenshots look tablet-friendly, and the early private-beta reviews give the app high marks.
But open questions remain, especially: Will the personalization actually create valuable relevance for readers? Can publishers profit from it?
News.me's challenge: The business model
A few quick calculations point to the difficulty of turning fractions of a penny into significant profits.
Assuming a user buys an annual subscription to the app, she would be paying $2.91 a month for access. To get an idea for the app’s break-even point on profit, I figured News.me’s royalty payments to publishers at half a penny ($0.005) per unique page view.
If a very active user looks at 14 pages per day, at a half-penny rate News.me would be paying out $2.01 a month in license fees to publishers. That is out of $2.03 each subscriber is worth after Apple takes its 30 percent.
Those are very rough calculations, and the licensing fee could be much lower (or be tiered to adjust for volume). But, that only points to the tension between fixed subscription revenues and flexible page view consumption.
At that same $0.005, each publisher would need 1 million views to earn just $5,000 monthly. So, lowering the royalty to make the app more profitable reduces the revenues each partner can expect to earn from the arrangement.
I have asked Betaworks to provide some additional details on their revenue sharing plan. Undoubtedly, News.me and its partners have run the numbers and believe their model will work. I will need to understand the details better to share their confidence.
Disclosure: In May I will start a job as a senior product manager at The Boston Globe, which is owned by the New York Times Co. I haven’t had any access to discussions regarding News.me.