Guardian app treads a fine line on pricing

The wraps have come off the Guardian’s revamped iPhone app which is being offered on a subscription basis rather than the one-off download fee of the original model.

Live-ness is at the heart of the proposition with the app costing £2.99 for six months and £3.99 for 12 months, although the US version will continue to be ad-supported and free.

There’s increased emphasis on video, free goal alerts in a revamped football service, rolling live coverage such as the Wikileaks US embassy cables coverage, comments on stories and an at-a-glance guide to hot topics.

The Guardian is gambling on these elements converting users of the existing app to the new one before closing the old one down.

For people who have already bought in, that’s probably not too much of a leap – the price of a sandwich as one endorser puts it – but it does mean the new app will be competing for eyeballs against the Guardian’s free (ad-supported) mobile site.

And there’s the further risk that it might cannibalize the daily paper’s readership and revenues.

If the free variety proves to be the more popular of the two The Guardian can, of course, always adjust its advertising rates if the market will bear it.

But highlighting the benefits of the paid-for app means drawing attention to the weaknesses of the free model which, by implication, will be slower, less frequently updated and less feature-rich.

There’s nothing wrong with this approach; there’s always been a premium on getting information faster than other people. But it does create a headache for marketing departments and for linking when you have standard and premium services stabled in the same organisation.

As for the existing app, which launched in December 2009, it will remain live for six months, according to Guardian product manager Jonathon Moore.

In a blog post he writes: “While we remain committed to offering our content for free on and our recently upgraded mobile website, it’s clear that in order to deliver the highest quality product for a single platform, considerable investment is required.”

Free or paid for? As ever, for individuals it’s a case of you pay your money and you take your chances.

The bigger question for news organisations is whether enough people will pay – or whether advertising rates can be raised to sufficient levels – to meet ever-increasing expectations of instant information.


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