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AOL’s push into iPad news aggregation — to compete with the likes of Flipboard, Zite, Pulse, Yahoo’s Livestand and others — is being taken up a notch today, with the launch of the AOL Editions magazine app in the UK and Canada.
The news underscores a strategy by AOL (NYSE: AOL) to build greater scale in its business as it looks to turn around its fortunes in display advertising; and it comes on the heels of an announcement yesterday formalizing AOL’s cooperation with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) in online advertising
On the surface, the app looks pretty much like the app that AOL has already launched in the U.S. but David Temkin, head of mobile of AOL, tells paidContent that the delay in launching it outside the U.S. was down to AOL customizing the app for more local audiences.
Like the U.S. version, the new Editions, both free apps, will give users the option of creating their own magazine, complete with different sections covering areas like lifestyle, fashion, health and sport. That magazine then gets “delivered” to users at the time of their choosing. The content — which gets presented more in a magazine feature format and feels like like a “news” reader — has been curated for local audiences. Temkin says that the UK Editions is launching with more than 1,000 dedicated UK media sources, with certain categories like sports having a significant overhaul to match the UK market better.
The move to the UK and Canada represents a leg up on Yahoo, which last week finally unveiled its Livestand project — another tablet magazine built on aggregated content — which has so far it has only launched the product in the U.S.
Temkin says the company is “keeping its eyes open” for where to take Editions next.
As with the U.S. product, Editions will be free to download and use. For now, it will be ad-free. That’s because Temkin says AOL wants first to monitor how users engage with the product before introducing those commercial elements. Ads will be introduced, but in a way that makes them an integral part of the media.
“We put a fair amount of effort into getting a readout from users so that the ads don’t disrupt the experience,” he says. In the US Editions, AOL also incorporated advertising only after the launch, and has banked a lot on high-value, more innovative formats, such as full-page immersive ads, rather than play a simple banner/volume game. The UK and Canada could, he said, “manifest very different formats.”
AOL is not get giving out numbers of active subscribers or any other metrics of user engagement on the U.S. version of Editions, except for these:
» Currently Editions is showing the “highest level of engagement of all of AOL’s apps efforts,” which also include a number of apps for its many web properties such as Engadget and Huffington Post. (Perhaps no surprise there; Editions only exists as an app, whereas the others can be and do get used via the web.)
» “Hundreds of thousands” of people have downloaded the app — but again no numbers of active users. (Important to note that the proportion of active users to downloads can sometimes be a very disparate figure, according to the CEO of another news reading app.)
» It has regularly featured in the top-ten news apps category on the App Store — which has also helped contribute to more downloads.
Looking ahead, besides taking the product to more international markets, Temkin says that for now the company is not concentrating on making an Android version of the app, nor is it exploring a web app for Editions.
“In the end AOL is in the business of eyeballs and audience,” said Temkin. “And Apple’s iPad currently has an overwhelming market share in tablets.” The iPad could have anywhere between a 70 and 95 percent of the tablet market today, depending on whether you are counting shipped devices or sold devices and active users.
That could change in the longer term, and Temkin does say the company is “very interested” in other platforms like Android, PlayBook’s QNX and the web, “but for now they are less interesting.”