Almost a year after Zite’s news reader app for the iPad drew the ire of several publishers — not to mention a few angry letters — the company is making friends with its former antagonists. Zite has now signed deals with eight publishers to create sections within the app for their content.
As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: Bleacher Report, The Daily Beast, FOX Sports, HLNtv, The Huffington Post, Motley Fool, The Next Web, VentureBeat, and Zite parent company CNN have agreed to become the first members of the Zite Publisher Program. Zite users will be able to add sections from those publishers to their reading lists and the free app will use the same algorithm it uses to pick relevant stories based on reader preferences to rank stories within those sections, said Mark Johnson, CEO of Zite.
No money is changing hands, said Martin Stoddart, vice president of business development for Zite. Publishers will be able to place an ad at the bottom of their sections, but it must be a house ad directing readers to their own apps or Web sites, he said.
Zite assembles a list of stories it believes are most relevant to your interests based on criteria entered into the app, allowing users to choose from a basic list of sections or enter their own keywords. The company has experimented with branded sections since it was acquired by CNN last summer, and will now feature sections from the publishers listed above as well as others to come among the default choices presented to users.
“We’ve been talking to publishers for over a year now, and the first conversation did not start off on the best foot,” Johnson said, now able to laugh at the cease-and-desist letters sent to Zite last year by publishers incensed that the app presented the content of their stories within a screen that featured none of their ads or branding. But publishers are starting to realize that they can attract new readers through apps like Zite and build their brands, he said.
Johnson acknowledged that the current situation is a bit more like “co-opetition” than a pure partnership, given that some publishers would vastly prefer readers visit their own mobile apps or Web site as opposed to aggregators like Zite. But he said that content publishers have the same discoverability problem that small mobile developers have to confront, and that apps like Zite can drive traffic to those publishers that they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy.
Zite still isn’t ready to divulge how many people are using its app on a regular basis, although Johnson said it shares those numbers under a non-disclosure agreement with prospective publishing partners. After launching initially for the iPad, Zite is now available on the iPhone and on Android phones.