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The Economist’s approach to distribution is to hedge their bets across all platforms, sitting still while AMP and Facebook Instant Articles work out kinks


By Jessica Goodfellow, Media Reporter

March 4, 2016 | 6 min read

The Economist is busy readying a new website for summer launch, developing a new app, as well as preparing its latest print offering, 1843, for its debut next week (8 March).

So while other publishers have been quick to jump on the latest offerings from Google AMP and Facebook Instant Articles, the weekly newspaper is prioritising the enhancement of its own offerings first, citing unconfirmed plans on Google’s part and its own projects being well under way as reasons for its stance.

“Our priority is to hedge because we are not sure where the market is going. At the moment we are working with Apple News, Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP, but at the same time we find that people do like to come to The Economist so we are still investing in our website.” said Jora Gill, chief digital officer at The Economist in an interview with The Drum ahead of the Online Media Awards, for which she is a judge.

Gill said the publisher will be launching a new website in the summer, looking at changing the way it enhances content on the site and produces recommendations either from editorial staff or through a simple form of machine learning. It is also looking both at its current app and working on a new addition, which it is getting its customers to develop with the publisher.

“We have a group of customers and people who are interested in The Economist and we are trying to see if we can break new markets and new ground with an app that takes the element of what we have - which is great content, combined with how people consume content.”

The publisher has partially launched the website to five per cent of its audience, and are asking them for feedback on the look and feel to the new offering. It promises to be more responsive, and made with smartphone optimisation in mind.

Isn’t smartphone optimisation exactly what Google AMP is offering?

Gill said the AMP platform is “crucial” for The Economist, but explained reason for the publisher holding back on using it as “a question of prioritising”.

“We are still busy with our website and apps. So getting on Facebook Instant Articles and AMP will happen, it’s just a question of when. It will probably be a few months down the road.”

The publisher is experimenting with AMP on a “smaller product” it has, but confirmed it will have a bigger presence on AMP eventually, “it’s just a question of when”.

In answer to why the publisher is prioritising its own platforms over the huge audiences AMP can open up, Gill said it was a question of “how long do we wait” since those projects were already under way, and “Google hadn’t really shared fully what the plans and dates were for AMP”.

The Drum recently spoke to Simon Phillips, head of digital product at IBT Media on how IBT will be using AMP as one of the launch partners. He disagreed with this opinion that Google have been unclear in confirming plans for AMP, saying:

“They have been very clear on what the framework is, so everyone just needs to work to that and if you don’t you can’t get in on the page. But it is evolving on a day to day basis. A few weeks ago they were working out how to put ads on the page and then a week later that had been established. It is in beta right now and will continue to improve over time.”

The Economist operates predominantly on Facebook and Twitter at the moment, but is looking at Snapchat “since it has such a big following”. In terms of news aggregators, it already has a presence on Apple News but is looking to have something on Instant Articles and Google AMP over the next couple of months.

Gill expects AMP to generate the publisher revenue by the amount of traffic it will drive for advertising, which will increase because of the amount of eyeballs on what the publisher is producing.

"The speed and smartphone optimisation it can offer means people will read it on the go and sometimes sites are too slow so you have to rely on apps. In this case you no longer will have to do that - that’s the promise anyway", he added.

The Economist launched its short form app Espresso last year, a bitesize offering which provides readers with an Economist spin on the five top stories from the previous day’s news. It also launched a Chinese cousin of the app last year ‘Global Business Review’, which is written both in English - for those who want to read The Economist in the distinctive style that they write in - and is also available in the local language.

Part of the publisher’s reach strategy is to cover all forms of what people are interested in, says Gill. These short form apps appeal to people in a hurry, whereas over the weekend people have more time to read the longer form versions of the stories available on the main Economist app.

The Online Media Awards 2016 are open for entries until 9 March. Click here to register.

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