The New Guardian App and Newspaper Update

Logo of the British newspaper The Guardian
Image via Wikipedia

Fairly recently I wrote about newspapers, their place in media moving forwards and how these companies are adapting to the digital world. It’s still a very interesting topic that’s constantly evolving as news companies look to bring their content to phones and perhaps more importantly, tablets such as the iPad. Tablet devices are perfect for newspapers as their size allows them to provide the most realistic newspaper-like reading experience on an electronic device, aside from the kindle or other eBook readers. These devices don’t allow colour for the most part. Because they don’t include media capabilities, such as video, and because newspapers aren’t usually read for long periods at a time, they aren’t as well suited to the medium of news the way things are now.

The Guardian are my favourite newspaper. I like their journalistic style and the paper just has this appeal that resonates with me for some reason. As I wrote in my last post in this subject, I have been using their iPhone app for a while now on my iPod Touch and it’s been a great product for that time. The newspaper has just put out a new version, only this one requires a subscription fee to use it.

While I’m not against subscription based business models for content that is high quality enough to warrant such a price, it does bother me that the Guardian have taken this u-turn on policy without really acknowledging their early adopting customers who I feel have been left out in the cold to an extent.

Yes, it was never going to make them much money by charging one-time fee of £2.39 for access to the app. However, when it really comes down to it, you’re not gaining that much extra with the app that you can’t get on the regaular guardian site, or even the mobile site for that matter. They have walked the line between usefulness and novelty and just come out on the right side for them. It really depends how much the seamless feel, ease of use, customization and mobile multimedia options matter to you.

As far as comparing this app to the previous, non-subscription versions goes, honestly, they’re much the same on the surface. This is what I expected and it does feel quite bad to think that you’ve payed considerably more money for essentially nothing new that you’re interested in. Goal alerts I can get from Eurosport’s app for free, horizontal view isn’t really that necessary, and the rest of the updates are too small and insignificant to warrant a fairly steep price increase.

Once I got past the familiar exterior though, I noticed that there were some more subtle improvements in layout and performance. Along with much faster updating, there is now one tab for multimedia, with video, photo galleries and audio all contained within. The photo Galleries have ditched the fancy looking but slow to navigate carousel default view, which is I think a good idea. The galleries are where I spend the vast majority of my time in the app, so I’m glad they’re considerably more usable in this version.

Beyond these improvements though, it’s really exactly the same app, and I get that the company has to make money, but they should have released the original app with this price scheme if they didn’t want to have any pricing backlash from customers. It was simply unavoidable when a change such as this is made.

I’m being kind to the dev team here, because there’s really not a lot else to shout about. I even noticed a bug where if you modify the home screen, and then leave the settings, you have to restart the app before anything will load in that section. However, this is a small problem and it doesn’t detract from an overall very good app. If you love the Guardian, and especially if you’re used to paying a lot of money by subscribing to the newspaper itself, then this will be almost an impulse purchase for you. If you’re like me and hardly ever bought a paper in your life, then it depends if you are willing to pay for content you don’t have to pay for, and whether or not you want to financially support this company. Personally, I want to support them, especially as the subscription is a drop in the ocean compared to buying the physical paper for the same length of time.

In summary, this small feature update is essentially a glorified excuse to charge more money. With that said, if you want a great news app that offers a bit more flavour than the BBC, I think it’s still worth downloading even at this inflated price. Just make sure you understand what you’re getting first, to avoid being disappointed later.

Whether the pricing compares well to other newspaper’s app offerings is hard to say due to the fact that other papers bundle in app access with paper subscriptions, but from what I’ve heard, they seem to be priced competitively. We’ll see in the future how things go and whether a standard price emerges from fierce competition.