The Washington Post has unveiled a new tablet application exclusively for Amazon Fire owners that will package news in distinct morning and evening editions with updates for major breaking stories.
The app, which will not include a local news section, is aimed at building a wider national and international audience for the newspaper by tapping into the Amazon Fire customer base. And Amazon said it hopes content from The Post will make using its tablet more appealing and bring more value to customers.
Amazon will load the app into new Fire devices and offered current owners free software updates for the new app beginning Thursday. For six months, access to The Post will be free. For the following six months, readers would have to pay $1, and after that, they would have to pay monthly. The monthly rate is still under discussion, but Post officials said it would most likely be between $3 and $5.
The new app marks an important step in the quest laid out by Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and owner of The Post, soon after the August 2013 announcement that he would purchase the publication. He described a goal of creating a new “daily ritual bundle” that would combine a wide variety of material and appeal to a wide variety of readers.
In doing so, Bezos said at the time that he wanted to reverse the trend of people flitting from Web site to Web site, often arriving via Facebook or Twitter to read a single story before moving on. At a meeting of Post staffers, Bezos said, “We can’t have people swooping in to read one article.” He added that “people will buy a package; they will not pay for a story.”
But the launch of the app comes as tablet sales have stalled and Amazon’s tablet has been losing market share, according to industry analysts. (Amazon does not release sales data for its Kindle Fire.)
The NPD Group, a market consulting firm, said that unit sales of all tablets to consumers have inched up just 1 percent through Nov. 1 this year compared with last year, according to its weekly retail tracking service. Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Kantar World Panel, said Amazon has a base of 22.7 million tablet users but that its share of sales slid to 18 percent, from 25 percent in the year ending September. Those figures do not include corporate purchases.
But Milanesi added that Amazon Kindle owners read more — and more regularly — than those on other tablets. “People can look at the Kindle Fire as a glorified e-reader,” she said, but for a Washington Post app, she added, “that’s not a bad idea at all.”
Moreover, Shailesh Prakash, vice president for digital product development at The Post, said that the company plans to launch the app on Google Android tablets and then iPads in the first quarter of next year.
The news media market, however, is rife with competing models for attracting readers — ideally paying readers. But so far, none can be considered a success. Samsung offered free one-year subscriptions to the tablet version of the New York Times for buyers of its Pro tablet; the year isn’t up yet, and it isn’t clear how many readers will stick with the product.
Still other sites, such as Trove and Flipboard, are trying to let users tailor their own streams of news, made up of content plucked from many different sites.
“There have been so many different strategies tried,” said James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, an advisory firm. “I don’t know that there is any clear winner yet.”
But Amazon’s support could prove an advantage for The Post. Renewal rates tend to be higher on Amazon because people do so much other shopping on the site that their credit card information tends to be up to date.
McQuivey said that “embedding into the Kindle family with a base of tens of millions of users, that’s a strategic move. That’s trying to reach a scalable level where even if you’re only collecting digital dimes, the dimes are coming from many more people. And Amazon is in a position to deliver you an integrated experience.”
The Post’s Prakash added that “this gives us reach in one play to tens of millions of people” and that “if they choose not to like us, we have to fix it.”
For now, The Post plans to publish its two tablet editions with at least 100 articles each at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., in time to catch peak periods when tablet readers are looking at The Post. “It’s a couch device and a breakfast table device,” said Julia Beizer, director of mobile content at The Post.
The app features two stories, each laid out vertically, per page; there will be no home page or section fronts. Tapping on a story will make it appear in a larger, easy-to-read format. Readers can turn electronic pages by passing their fingers over the screen.
A button at the top takes readers to a list of all the stories in that edition, divided into categories called “Top stories,” “Around the world,” “Politics and power,” “Business and tech,” “Ideas and controversy,” “Sports,” “Life and entertainment,” “Most read & don’t miss” and “Backstory.” The package includes high-resolution photographs, charts and video. A team of 16 editorial staffers working three shifts a day will put it together.
“This new team was formed to launch the tablet app and will continue to grow it and other products as we focus on new mobile audiences and opportunities in the coming year,” said Cory Haik, executive producer and senior editor of digital news, who has led the newsroom team with the project.
“They’ve made it pretty intuitive and easy to scan the paper,” said Russ Grandinetti, senior vice president for Kindle at Amazon. He said that, like traditional newspapers, the app captured “the serendipity of coming across stories that you didn’t know you were looking for.” He said he believes it will lead to “more engagement.”
Traditionally, The Post, while having a national reputation, has been primarily a local business, and it relies heavily on ad revenue from its locally circulated print edition. Since Bezos purchased The Post last year, however, the paper has discarded its goal of being “for and about Washington.” It has added reporters to cover national arts, national sports, financial news and other areas that — along with long-standing strengths in such areas as politics and foreign news — might appeal to a broader audience in the tablet format.
The Post said in its news release Thursday that the newsroom staff now numbers “almost 700,” which would be dozens more than before the sale to Bezos.
“There’s no denying it,” said Prakash, “this is an experiment.” And, he added, the app “is the beginning.”
He said there would be new software for the Post’s Web version in the first quarter of 2015 and for mobile phones by the end of next year.