OnSwipe, the New York-based startup that we wrote about awhile back, is launching the full version of its mobile web-publishing service today: a platform that allows websites and media companies to create tablet-friendly views of their content that look and act like apps but are simple HTML5. The company is also announcing a number of high-profile partners, including Forbes and Hearst, which have signed on to share advertising revenue. But will that be enough to drag publishers out of the arms of Apple and its subscription-based app business model?
In a nutshell, Co-Founder and CEO Jason Baptiste’s pitch to publishers is that while apps are good for some things — games, specific actions such as listening to music, etc. — for content-related purposes they aren’t ideal, for either the publisher or the user. As Baptiste puts it in one of the slides he shows to investors and partners, “apps are bull***.” To take just one example, most apps don’t take advantage of the web by using links or interactivity as much as they could, because the content is locked inside an app.
OnSwipe originally wanted to sell its platform to publishers, Baptiste said during an interview earlier this year, but the company decided to offer it as a free service to anyone who wanted to use it and to focus on partnerships and revenue sharing. While making editorial content better for mobile and tablets was the focus for the company when it started, the OnSwipe CEO said that he and his advisors quickly realized that they could also help to make advertising better as well. A video of our interview is embedded below:
Baptiste co-founded the company with his partner Andres Barreto last year and launched an early beta as a WordPress plugin last summer. The pair then got invited to join the TechStars incubator in New York City, which is where I met them — just before the company landed its $5-million “Series Awesome” (as Baptiste has called it) from a group of venture funds including Lightbank, Betaworks, SV Angel and Lerer Ventures, as well as Russian investor Yuri Milner.
At this point, the publishers working with OnSwipe seem to see it as an experiment. Forbes has been pushing the boundaries of online publishing in a number of ways since True/Slant founder Lewis DVorkin took over the operation there, so its use of OnSwipe isn’t that surprising. Hearst, meanwhile, seems to have focused primarily on offering its titles via iPad apps, and so far, the only title involved in the OnSwipe partnership is Marie Claire, which isn’t one of its top brands.
As Jeff Sonderman points out at the Poynter Institute, the benefits of OnSwipe for publishers are that it’s free; it’s easy to set up; and it has the potential to bring in new sources of revenue (although the benefits of its enhanced ads remain to be proven). At the same time, however, many traditional media companies seem to be happy putting all their eggs in Apple’s app-store basket — including some extreme versions of this approach, such as the New York Post‘s refusal to allow readers to access its content without an app.
That said, there are signs that some publishers are looking at alternatives to Apple’s walled garden — including the Financial Times launching an HTML5 site that functions like an app, and Fortune magazine experimenting with web-based versions of some of its offerings. Will OnSwipe help to boost that tide? That will depend on whether the company can prove that its platform can produce revenue gains as well as making the content look nice.
Disclosure: Automattic, maker of WordPress.com, is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.