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5 Ideas that Work to Convert Downloads to Paid Apps

Peter Kafka of Re/code noted recently, “46 of the 50 top-grossing apps in the Apple App Store are free and supported by in-app purchases, functionality or content that can be purchased from within the app. This number has been growing over time, and none of the Top 10 apps (by total gross) are charged for upfront.”

This is something that magazine apps are struggling with.  For our magazine app clients, the question becomes: if we don't get the money up front, how do we take the concept of in-app promotions that’s been created in the gaming and music app world and translate it effectively to magazine apps?



Let’s look at how games have played this (pun intended). In a game, my teenage son informs me, it starts out free. Then you have to pay to continue playing without taking a break. If you don’t want to pay, you have to step away from the game and start anew. If you want to continue, you can buy a “lifepack” or “5 gems” or some other cute thing for $.99 and continue playing. “It’s the Skinner Box, Mom,” he said, exasperated. Other ways of making money in games or music: ask the consumer to pay to block the advertisements. Many consumers are happy to have an ad-free environment in exchange for a little cash. A third way: the Wikipedia/gamefan way:”I do this for free/as a non-profit. I’d like to get paid. Give me $.99.”

Would any of these methods of free-to-paid conversions work for magazines?

Some companies are trying.  MAZ Digital, for example, is now testing a “Skinner Box”-like approach with magazines. They will let you read for a period of time, then BAM, they hit you with a request to get paid. They call it “timed access.”

Does it work? It’s early days yet (they started using the timed access less than a month ago) but the early results are promising. MAZ Digital’s VP of Business Development Shouvik Paul claims 10% higher conversion rates with this new method. The industry average for conversion rates is 5%. If we can inch up conversion, we make a dramatic difference.

The second way of asking for money, “give me money and I’ll make the ads go away” is more problematic. As recent market research proved , advertising in magazine apps holds the same value to consumers as advertising in print magazines. In other words, they have the same recall and they value the advertising as much or more than the content. This is not true in any other digital media, where advertising is something to ignore if you can and to click the little x to make it go away (or pay to get it to go away) if you’re lucky.

MAZ Digital is planning on testing another trick borrowed from gaming and YouTube “watch this sponsored ad and view more of the magazine” as a means other than asking for direct payment, to get the reader to continue to engage, and thereby increase the possibility of conversion later on.

The third way, “I do this out of the goodness of my heart, please pay me” may work for a ‘zine or a labor of love or Wikipedia, where the upkeep of the software and the monitoring should be paid for even if the data is peer-reviewed and peer-created. But, for a commercial venture like a magazine, which has thrived for years on the three legs of advertising, circulation, and editorial, it’s a tough sell.

Five Ways to increase Free-to-Paid Conversions  that work for publishers:

1. Trial Issue: Offer a free issue. If they like it, they can continue. 


2. Offer free content with the paid content. As they leaf through the free content, promote the paid content.

3. Push messaging: You can also target those who downloaded the free content with push messaging for paid content afterwards.

4. Free Preview: Similar to the Trial issue, but no obligation to buy at that time, and only a portion of the magazine on view. Skinner-box like, but by page count, not by time.


5. And finally, the press the lever and get a treat, Skinner Box Timed Access Approach being pioneered by MAZ Digital.