Washington Post steps into paid content with iPad app for politics news

The new WP Politics iPad app, which launches Monday, marks The Washington Post’s most significant attempt yet to charge readers for digital content.

The Post’s website and most everything else it does digitally is free (ad-supported). The company tried charging a nominal $1.99 a year for its main iPhone app when it debuted in 2010, but made it free about a year ago. Its main Android app is free, along with Social ReaderTrove, and niche apps for Redskins news,  D.C.-area transit and entertainment. (The only exception is a monthly fee to download Post stories to an e-reader.)

The new politics iPad app is also free to download and mostly free to use, supported by a persistent banner ad across the bottom of the screen. But users (even print subscribers) must pay $2.99 a month to access premium sections.

“We wanted to try a new business model for premium mobile content and kept the monthly fee low, leaving most of the in-depth content on the politics app free,” Beth Jacobs, the Post’s general manager of mobile, told me by email.

The Insider's Corner, which aggregates all the Post's political blogs, is one of the sections that requires a $2.99 monthly subscription.

The premium sections are “The Insider's Corner,” which pulls together all of the Post’s politics coverage from blogs and beat reporters, and anything older than 48 hours in the “Campaign Files,” which group content by candidate or issue.

Free sections are top news, a candidates and issues guide, interactive maps with polls and voting results, historical election results and TV ads by state.

“The freemium model offers us an opportunity to engage a large audience of habitual users and present them with premium tools and features over time,” Jacobs said. “We believe that those who are passionate about politics will find value in our premium offerings.”

The decision to charge for full access to the politics app stands in contrast to the Post’s main iPad app, which initially was supposed to become a paid product about a year ago but never did. That may change in the near future.

“The Post’s flagship iPad app remains free while we continue to make enhancements to the product,” Jacobs said. “When we begin to charge, we want to make sure we are launching with a compelling, value-add experience.”

Note she said “when,” not “if.” The Post could shift to some form of paid content whenever version 2.0 of the flagship app comes out. With corporate earnings and the newspaper’s operating income slipping, new revenue streams certainly would be welcome.

Who is this app for?

The WP Politics app aims for both depth and creativity, designed to be “essential” for “readers who love politics,” Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli told me by email.

The top news section of the app is highly visual, with images representing every story.

“For people looking to cut through the noise and get to substance, the app offers tools and content to get up to speed on candidates and issues,” he said. "At the same time, its thoroughness and detail — it offers everything from polling data sorted by time and state to historical election results to a campaign ads database and more — makes it the best iPad experience for political junkies and the politically-minded alike."

The Post’s app joins a few others dedicated to national political coverage. It should compare favorably with Politico’s iPad app, which does a fine job of delivering stories but does not have extra interactive features and deep-dive sections like the Post’s app.

But one thing the Post’s app does not have is aggregated content from other sources. The New York Times’ Election 2012 iPhone app bundles related top stories from multiple sources. The popular newsreading app Flipboard has a curated Election 2012 section.

After the presidential election passes in November, the Post will have to retool its app. “Ultimately, this is The Post’s app for political coverage,” Brauchli said. “We’ll adapt it to covering politics and government, and continue to follow the people, policies and issues that shape the country.”

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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