Flipboard was one of the first iPad apps to really take advantage of the touch-and-swipe interface of the device to create a kind of digital magazine, made up of users’ Twitter feeds and Facebook streams, combined with RSS feeds and curated content from traditional media outlets. Now the startup is making a move into the advertising side of the digital-media equation, by launching a partnership with traditional publishers like Conde Nast to push their ads into the Flipboard app. Can the company succeed at digital advertising when other players have failed?
For the most part, traditional media companies like Conde Nast have tried to take advantage of the iPad via content-specific apps, many of which have been criticized (by us, among others) for being non-web native “walled garden” experiences that are boring and don’t add much value to the printed product. At the same time, however, some startups including Flipboard have tried to build apps that act like digital magazine-stands, with content from many different entities — something that we’ve argued is a much more digital approach than a standalone app for every media outlet.
In addition to Flipboard, there is a Vancouver-based startup called Zite — which drew the ire of the traditional industry by “scraping” content from RSS feeds while removing advertising, and was hit with a cease-and-desist order from a number of media players — as well as News.me, which was created by programmers at the New York Times and is now part of the Betaworks incubator, and others such as News360.
But while many of these apps have been focused on aggregating content, not many have made the leap into advertising. Flipboard’s new program will see selected brands that have a relationship with Conde Nast appear in full-page ads embedded in the streams of the publisher’s content, beginning with American Express in The New Yorker, followed by Lexus in Bon Appetit magazine and Wired. Flipboard also suggested that this was just the beginning of a much larger advertising rollout — CEO Mike McCue noted that the company has more than 30 media partners.
Flipboard’s partnership with Conde Nast also suggests that some publishers — who had previously placed all their bets on dedicated iPad apps — are looking for alternative sources of revenue, and that some may have stepped up that search given some of Apple’s restrictions on what publishers can do via their apps, such as the requirement that publishers who offer a link from their app to a website where they sell their content must also provide in-app sales (for which Apple takes a 30-percent fee).
How users respond to the addition of advertising to their Flipboard streams remains to be seen, but McCue says he isn’t concerned about a negative reaction, and that the company doesn’t plan to offer a paid version that comes without ads. Readers are accustomed to advertising in their magazines, he said, and Flipboard plans to maintain what it sees as a high-quality experience, with full-page ads only. Although McCue didn’t mention it, there also seems to be an opportunity to apply Flipboard’s social-sharing tools to ads as well, or at least to see which get clicked on and provide those analytics to publishers.
Flipboard isn’t the only iPad-based startup that is trying to build a new kind of content-based advertising business outside of Apple’s direct control: OnSwipe, which helps publishers produce iPad-friendly websites that look and function more like apps thanks to HTML5, says that it also plans to try and apply those same principles to making advertising look better on the device as well. While the tablet-based content game started with content, it looks like advertising could well be the next frontier.