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Now publishers are becoming news aggregators. This is why.

hand holding cards

In trying to wrestle back traffic (and ad revenues) from the duopoly, publishers have been experimenting with diverse services. News aggregation is one area where few publishers have ventured on their own; most work as partners with news aggregation platforms like SmartNews and Flipboard. 

The exception has been German publishing giant Axel Springer and now, News Corp., which recently announced that it was developing a news aggregation service called Knewz

“Uniquely comprehensive news hub”

The app is being developed to address concerns that platforms like Google News don’t reward publishers’ work adequately, reports The Wall Street Journal. Knewz won’t just draw content from News Corp. properties. It will link to outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and NBC, as well as digital-native players, magazine publishers and local newspapers. 

We are exploring this with the goal of recognizing and rewarding the provenance of journalism, and to drive traffic and data to publishers—including subscription sites—so their original work is respected. 

James Kennedy, a spokesman for News Corp.

The app aims to promote original content, rather than rewrites of existing articles. The service will give equal weight to subscription and non-subscription news sites. This was once an issue of contention between News Corp. and Google News. Google would downgrade news articles that were within a paywall in its search rankings. It ended the policy in 2017. 

The service won’t take a cut of any advertising revenue, and share data with publishers. Since it hasn’t been launched yet, and more details are awaited, it’s unclear how Knewz will affect News Corp’s business model. 

According to Flashes and Flames, this move “seems to show that the $10bn-revenue News Corp. is finally ready to enter the race to become a global digital news provider.”

The idea of providing an alternative to the online platforms that aggregate news stories, while offering more of a reward to publishers, might be a neat way of creating a uniquely comprehensive news hub like HuffPost must once have dreamed about.

Flashes and Flames

“We’re going to explode our reach”

The other publisher with its own news aggregation app, Axel Springer, has started seeing profit from the service. The publisher launched its aggregator app, Upday in 2015.

According to Digiday, the app became profitable in 2018. It is currently working with 4,000 publishers, and has 25M monthly active users. Upday contributes between 1% and 10% of publishers’ mobile referral traffic

The app presents news articles in a card-like format and displays ads after every few cards. It tracks user activity, like what is read and for how long, to make customer segments. While figures were not shared, Digiday reports that the platform tripled its revenues in 2018 compared to the previous year. 

We expect to multiply in terms of users and revenue; we’re going to explode our reach.

Aneta Nowobilska, Chief Revenue Officer at Upday

Considering current trends, investing in or partnering with a news aggregator may be beneficial for publishers in terms of driving traffic, ad revenues and subscriptions. 

The 2019 Reuters Digital News report reveals that 55% of its survey respondents prefer to access news through search engines, social media, or news aggregators. It also notes that overall first contact via social media (43%) has fallen by six points while the use of aggregators (11%) and alerts/notifications (10%) has grown.

We are seeing a significant, if relatively modest, shift towards mobile news aggregators.

Reuters Digital News Report, 2019

Another recently published report from Reuters states, “Broadcasters and newspapers are struggling to reach or build relationships with under-35s. This is an age group that tends to access the news via social media, aggregators and other non-traditional media.” 

The report mentions that news aggregators are getting increasingly popular because they serve both active and passive news consumers. They allow active readers to access the news they are most interested in and from the sources they want. For passive users, aggregators offer an effortless way to get an overview of the news.

145% YoY growth in referrals

According to an Axios report, “around the world, news aggregation as a business is exploding.” The report covers media companies that have built billion-dollar content distribution businesses. They include the news aggregator SmartNews, which recently reached a $1B valuation after raising $28M, and Bytedance, the world’s most valued startup whose flagship product Toutiao is a news aggregator.

While Toutiao is available for Chinese users, its international version TopBuzz has been driving significant traffic to publishers. According to Chartbeat, in 2018 the app referred nearly 34M pageviews in December alone to its publishers worldwide—a 36x increase from the previous year. 

SmartNews, which currently has over 20M global monthly active users, was called the “most reliably growing external referrer” by Kelsey Arendt, Senior Data Analyst at Parse.ly. Arendt noted in a post that referrals by SmartNews were “up by 145% YoY, and growing at an average of 9% MoM, with a steady trajectory upward.”

It’s notable that in today’s bleak news market where US tech giants like Google and Facebook dominate most news referral traffic online, a Japanese-based firm has been able to gain traction.

Sara Fischer, Media Reporter at Axios

“We are continuing to expand”

As we wait to see how News Corp. fares with Knewz, Axel Springer is scaling up Upday’s success with a new family of products called earli. While Upday was limited to Samsung devices, earli apps will be available on iOS and Android platforms in multiple languages. They include a news aggregator earliNews (to be launched later this year), and a podcast app earliAudio

Peter Würtenberger, CEO of Upday says, “Upday is a success story that we are continuing to expand together with Samsung. At the same time, we want to grow across various platforms and enable all users to quickly find the news relevant to them without getting lost in filter bubbles.”

Clare Carr, Vice President of Marketing at Parse.ly wrote in a column late last year, “Given that US adults are spending an average of 3 hours, 25 minutes a day on mobile devices in 2018, according to eMarketer, it may be no surprise that more and more readers are finding news through mobile news aggregators.

“What does this mean for publishers? It might be worthwhile to keep your eye on growing news aggregator referrers, especially if you’re trying to reach a younger demographic.”

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