With over 20 years’ experience leading both private and public technology companies, Maria Hedengren has a solid track record of scaling companies internationally, including the $2.2bn sale of iZettle to PayPal last year. Now the new CEO of digital magazine app Readly, WNIP spoke to Maria to find out more, including her views on the launch of Apples News +.
How will your experience transfer to Readly and the publishing industry?
I have long experience of working with tech companies whose success is driven by their ability to innovate, use data and to scale internationally. My experience of leadership within companies that supports and drives rapid international growth will be integral to the next stage for Readly.
You have over 20 years of experience at media tech companies, what would be your top 3 tips for publishers looking to grow their titles in the current era?
- Distribution – people always refer to content being king but distribution is the queen… it’s all about availability and accessibility. Our publishers are creating great content and we want to make that available worldwide and bring them new readers.
- Data and intelligence on customer readership behaviour – Readly analytics is a deeply insightful portfolio of reports that gives our publishers detailed intelligence on reader engagement – make use of it to create content that the readers actually crave. This may also be a way to expand your readership and test new angles.
- Make digital seamless and pain-free. Consumers are time poor and our research shows that readers want “me time” without the complications. Make it easy, keep download times to a minimum and keep the visuals easy on the eye and disturbance-free.
Readly is 5 years in the UK this year, how far has the business come?
Readly started operations in the UK in the spring of 2014, a year after launching in Sweden. Today, I am delighted to be leading a team working with publishers globally to deliver our platform across core markets – Sweden, UK, Netherlands, Germany, and other markets on the horizon.
With a strong portfolio of magazines and a rapidly growing user base, our efforts are focussed on continuing to build relationships with publishers to make sure they get the most out of the platform. Our data, analytics and marketing all help them reach a wider audience and generate additional revenue.
Let’s talk numbers, how are they looking?
Pretty healthy but there’s always room for growth. Globally, we have 725 publishers partnering with us to deliver over 4000 titles and almost 100,000 issues via the app. We have the big brand names right through to start up titles, offering users their favourite titles and many more to experiment with, which we’re seeing more and more.
Over the last year, Readly subscribers spent a total of 22 million hours reading digital magazines, with an average of 22 minutes per session and 7 hours a month.
How do you see Apple’s launch affecting Readly?
It is a significant change in the market when a huge global player such as Apple moves into the sector, but it is good for us, it brings a sense of dynamism to the market and validates our business. Readly is well established in our larger markets and I am confident in our model, holding the publishers’ interests at the heart of our business, so we welcome the competition.
What does it mean for the publishing industry?
We have seen declining numbers of print sales over recent years, but the full digital revolution still awaits us. The interest in digital magazines has exploded in the last few months which is an indication that the industry is ready and the arrival of Apple will only help to grow the market. With more serious players coming onto the market – I believe we will finally have that opening to build a strong, profitable market together.
What is your biggest concern with regards to this?
Sustainability of the market. I aim to build a market that is sustainable in the long term. It is therefore important that any player coming into the magazine world is serious in building a healthy, competitive, landscape where we make room to produce quality content for our customers to read and publishers to provide.
Is it rumoured that Apple profits will be split 50/50 with publishers, what is Readly’s approach to this?
I can’t comment on Apple News + but our model involves us having our publishers’ interests at the core of our business and a revenue split that is fair and equitable.
Do you have plans to introduce national news titles just like Apple News +?
We recently introduced dailies in Germany including well-known brands such as Die Welt and Bild, which was met with a great response from German users. As newspapers provide readers with quality journalism on a daily basis, it’s a natural addition to magazines and something we’re looking into in other markets too.
Apple is apparently hiring journalists to produce exclusive content for them, what is your approach to exclusive content?
Exclusive content is central to the growth of the leading film and music streaming services. Since last year, we are developing this proven model for magazines. For readers, it creates access to in-depth content on special interests. At the same time, publishers have an opportunity to distribute unique content to little risk. We will likely see more of this to come over the next year.
What would your advice be to publishers regarding digital?
It’s here and it’s an opportunity to grow your brand and audience. Readly can help understand your readers and potential audience and grow your footprint and revenues. The data we gather from our app helps us understand our readers in a way we have never been able to before. It’s an exciting chapter ahead.
Finally, your ambition for the next five years at Readly?
I am new in the company and have to be humble, I am still very much getting to know Readly. Of course I want us to establish Readly as the global leader for the digital reading of magazines – and I feel we are already well on our way.