March 17, 2023
SmartNews, the Japan-born news aggregator, has proven its expertise in reaching new mobile-first readers for various US publishers in the last ten years. Their secret? Always putting the reading experience first to retain an audience.
News aggregators such as SmartNews are the source for one in six externally driven page views — needless to say they should be a part of any online publisher's diversification strategy. That's why the Billboard Music Group, home to Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, Vibe, Spin and Stereogum, took a chance on SmartNews. In a recommendation, Jack Reidy, Director of Business Development at Billboard, stated they "saw an immediate increase in traffic across all brands after coming on as a hosted partner.” He added: "Some of our sites have more than doubled their reach on SmartNews. Our breaking-news coverage and original journalism in the music and entertainment space have been a great fit.”
The aggregator hosts various publishers such as USA Today, ABC News, Politico, People, Daily Beast, and the Los Angeles Times. Readers can access a curated homepage filled with timely content and follow each publication's dedicated channel, which SmartNews present as the best option to showcase content and introduce the journal or magazine to a new audience. Anyone with the App can read individual stories and dive into content blocks (collections of articles) from different media outlets with pluralistic viewpoints. Rich Jaroslovsky, SmartNews’ VP of content and chief journalist, defines the breaking news App "as something you look at when you don’t necessarily have a lot of time" compared to other aggregators such as Flipboard and Pocket.
And it works! From November 2021 to September 2022, SmartNews’ share of US traffic increased from about 2.4% to around 3.2% within a competitive market where Apple News (35-40% of the traffic share) and Google News (12-14%) are hegemonic.
“Aggregators are a great way to diversify your traffic sources,” said Jill Nicholson, Chief Marketing Officer at Chartbeat, in a recent interview with Digiday. She added: "Because [traffic] is a little bit more steady, at least as a whole, it can just be a great way to supplement that traffic in case you do have some struggles on one of the platforms or there are changes that are out of your control.”
In the US only, SmartNews is the second most downloaded news app, and between January to November 2022, US users have downloaded it over 2.3 million times. According to data analysed by App Annie, US readers spend more time on SmartNews (an average of five hours a month) than on any other mobile news app.
Perhaps the App's number of downloads has to do with its SmartView program, which delivers a smoother reading experience with the option to access some content offline (a feature initially built for Japanese readers riding the Tokyo subway). 80% of SmartNews’ page views in the US are made through SmartView. Matt Moore, Partnership Manager at Vox Media, collaborated with the App and confirmed that its "clean interface and straightforward user experience" helped Vox engage with their "passionate audiences by cutting through the noise and letting users focus on going deeper into the stories.”
A worry for publishers collaborating with a news aggregator is getting lost in a market where competitors cover the same stories simultaneously while an algorithm they have no power over designs personalised recommendations for each user. But figures show it's worth taking the risk to reach audiences who would not connect with the media outlet otherwise. As explained by Jill Nicholson: "You don’t need Apple News to tell you what The New York Times is, but usually, I am seeing smaller metro newspapers surfacing on these aggregators too… It might be a good way to start me on my loyalty journey.” According to recent Parse.ly data, on average, one in four SmartNews users reading content produced by the Parse.ly network of over 3,000 websites (The Wall Street Journal, NBC, Bloomberg, Condé Nast, among others) are returning visitors.
Publishers are also advised to sell display ads against their content in SmartView, for which they can keep most of the generated revenue. Other enticements include analytics tags, featured placement for sponsored or affiliate links, and revenue incentives in exchange for the inclusion of some SmartNews advertising.
Should a publisher want to jump on SmartNews without spending too much time building an on-platform channel, the easiest option would be to delegate the work to a service like Press Publish that will handle the collection, optimisation and distribution of all stories. The media outlet can then analyse the data provided by SmartNews to understand its audience in-App and how to tailor the best content and display ads to them.
The challenge for publishers and SmartNews remains to convince more people to read the news. Figures shared by Jill Nicholson in 2022 showed that "people are just not reading as much as they were during 2020." But the traffic driven by news aggregators and the "incremental revenue" they generated for publishers have remained steady.
Written by Dan Hastings
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