I love Flipboard. It presents news in an easy to read format and the application is uber easy to use. But only eight months ago, it looked like Flipboard was on its way out. The six-year-old company had lost key executives. Twitter had taken a hard look at Flipboard as an acquisition target — and passed. A report in the Wall Street Journal spelled out Flipboard’s struggle to hit revenue goals. And on top of it all, the app’s initial appeal — offering a more visual way to consume news — had been replicated and in many ways surpassed by other, bigger players, like Snapchat and Facebook and even Apple.
Started in 2010, Flipboard effectively reinvented print periodicals for the tablet form factor, aggregating content from a vast range of publishers, news sources and social networks to create touchscreen-enabled, swipe-friendly personalized magazines bolstered by a growing arsenal of customization tools, multimedia features and sharing options. The free Flipboard app also spearheaded a revolution in digital advertising, introducing full-page, click-through ads that emphasize both design sophistication and reader relevance.
Four years after hitting Apple’s App Store, Flipboard boasts more than 100 million active readers and adds 250,000 to 300,000 users every day. The company touts direct partnerships with more than 8,000 publishers. In late 2013 Flipboard completed a Series C round that boosted total financing to $161 million and hiked its valuation to a reported $800 million.
Calling itself “the world’s first social magazine,” Flipboard 1.0 brought together stories, photos, headlines and updates from across the Twitter and Facebook ecosystems. The app rendered links and images within the magazine, making it easy for users to discover, consume and share social content. Flipboard also let readers curate custom sections around their favorite subjects and hobbies; the app incorporated interstitial ads formatted to match the content and targeted for maximum audience relevance.
Flipboard isn’t the only company making headlines in the news-application segment. News, Media and Entertainment is the third most popular app category across iOS and Android devices nationwide, trailing only gaming and social media, according to Simon Khalaf, president and CEO of San Francisco-based mobile app analytics and advertising firm Flurry.
The average U.S. consumer spends two hours and 19 minutes each day accessing mobile applications, up 9.5 percent year over year, Flurry reports; usage of news and magazine apps alone surged 31 percent in 2013.
That’s all catnip to advertisers, Flipboard’s sole source of revenue. Flipboard declined to disclose revenue but says that its full-page advertisements can sell for the equivalent of print ads, rather than at standard digital rates, which skew far lower. Cisco, Gucci, Levi’s, Starbucks, Toyota and Volvo have all run Flipboard campaigns, with the firm reporting impressive click-through rates averaging 3 percent.
Flipboard’s success isn’t lost on the competition. Earlier this year Facebook launched Paper, a stand-alone news-reader app mirroring Flipboard in both concept and execution. Google offers its own Android-exclusive Google Play Newsstand, and smaller rivals like Circa and Trove are circling as well.
Flipboard is responding to the pressure by continuing to introduce features and services. In spring 2013 the company rolled out tools that allow readers to cull stories, videos, audio content and images to create do-it-yourself magazines devoted to any topic, event or personal interest, no matter how offbeat or obscure. Customized magazines can be private or public and shareable, supporting reader comments and interactions, and each item included in a digital publication retains attribution to the original content provider or social network.
Flipboard followed with the launch of custom “shoppable” magazines with Pinterest-like creation tools that allow users to assemble wish lists, look books and gift guides from across the Flipboard shopping category or any e-commerce site, complete with purchase links, then share the results with friends and family. The initiative kicked off with catalogs assembled by brand partners Banana Republic, Birchbox, eBay, Fab and ModCloth. Flipboard does not collect a cut of any items sold via such catalogs but still claims its share of revenue from ads appearing alongside the products.
Flipboard continues to refine and enhance its core software as well. Earlier this year the company acquired personalized news application Zite from CNN, which purchased the app in 2011 for a reported $20 million-plus. Zite’s algorithm-driven discovery engine analyzes millions of articles each day across more than 40,000 topics, suggesting content based on users’ interests and preferences; Flipboard is absorbing the Zite technology to improve its recommendation, personalization and search options.
In tandem with the Zite deal, Flipboard signed on to add CNN’s global content to the Flipboard app and create custom magazines for CNN personalities Fareed Zakaria, Jake Tapper and John King. McCue says Flipboard will court similar alliances with other personalities, celebrities and media outlets moving forward, additionally promising a host of technological innovations and improvements coming in the months ahead.
Good job to the Flipboard for continuing to enhance its offerings. I am typically against a pure ads based model and it’s heartening to see that companies have realised this and sought to offer increased value propositions to customers while increasing their bottom line,