Don’t Fear Flipboard

This new social aggregator could hold publishing’s entire future in its tablet-sized hands.

by: Sarah Frazier

The idea of “new” reads as convenience, and in our tech-heavy society new also means consolidation, time-saving, and customization. “New” knows what you want, and must prove clever enough to gain public approval and following through understanding market failings, then how to improve them. Publishing is in desperate need of “new.” The evolutions of portable devices such as smartphones and tablets have changed the way we think about not only “new” but “news.” Enter the social aggregator; enter Flipboard.

Flipboard is a free app for the Android, iPhone and iPad, and what is called a social aggregator. As an aggregator it connects feeds from Facebook, Twitter, you name it, into one convenient location in a beautiful magazine layout. It consolidates various sources of interest from film, news, TV, celebrity gossip, tech, science, food, design, etc., from countless publications and places. Blogs, acclaimed new sources, obscure news sources, areas of pondering wonder you thought were buried deep within the web – all come together in this unique specimen of a customized information feed. Not only can you read your favorite magazines, newspapers, blogs, etc., but Flipboard allows you to create your own customized, online magazine. Watch this video and understand how Flipboard functions to the user lifestyle.

Flipboard, and social aggregators like it such as Feedly, offer a new hope for publishers struggling to attract consistent and loyal readership in the digital age. Digital Strategist and author Rahaf Harfoush, published an article addressing just that – a solution for publishing through the Flipboard medium. In her article, “Flipboard and the Reading Revolution,” Harfoush says many publishers, including magazine publishers, are stuck in paid-for clunky online applications that she describes as “glorified PDF’s.” She says that “by not simply converting their content and putting it online, publishers are missing out on an opportunity to engage with readers on two levels” – multimedia experience and social interaction. Harfoursh sees the potential Flipboard provides readers and publishers, stating: “Flipboard is a positive step towards the next iteration of publishing. Let’s hope others follow to provide readers with a beautifully designed and easy-to-use customized reading experience.”

Consumers are all about convenience these days, and publishing is having a hard time keeping up with this concept. Many argue that there are already apps available from these sources online and in the app stores. This is true, but consumers are interested in saving time and customization, and Flipboard allows more than just what these individual sources can provide. It is the ultimate middle man – a model of what modern publishing is heading towards.

But what is the function of that model? How is it lucrative? And how can not only big publishers, but self-publishers get on the bandwagon? Flipboard currently has 85 million users worldwide, its operational idea isn’t anything new to most in the publishing world – it’s advertising. Yes, advertising brings in the bank. According to an article by Media Post, “Flipboard CEO Explains How Brand Is Monetizing Users,” there are more than 3.5 million customized titles created for the public on Flipboard, and that’s growing.

The article goes on to explain that paid advertising only appears in formal publishing partners like that of Vanity Fair.However, Flipboard offers publishers full-page ads, “…on a share-of-mind basis of up to 25 percent for a given publication in the app, or four advertisers per publication. In effect, users see ads about every 10 pages overall, according to McCue. Publishers can sell those ads directly or through Flipboard. Brands with customized magazines are increasingly using these ads to drive traffic to their Flipboard titles, much as many advertisers on Facebook try to steer users toward their brand pages.”

There is also something psychologically soothing to the consumer on Flipboard when they don’t have to see ads juxtaposed with the artices they’re trying to read.  Instead, the full-page ads are witnessed only when readers flip the pages. According to CEO Mike McCue, due to the magazine experience of Flipboard, these full-page ads can sell for an equivalent of that to print ads. This, McCue says, allows for a content monetization of 10-100 times that of banner ads normally seen on websites and apps.

Typical watch time for Flipboard averages 15 minutes per use, with brand magazines witnessing 20-40 pages flipped per session. Publishers may worry about brand or ad reception (a.k.a., strength of the brand), but a study done by Nielsen, a global information and market research company, found that “comparing brand metrics for advertising in the app with the same ad content in other media showed it had higher brand recall and favorability — 80 percent and 70 percent respectively — than on TV, the desktop Web and radio.” As readers, we couldn’t care less about ad statistics, but this is fantastic news for those marketers, publishers, and advertisers trying to survive in the ever-changing publication market.

In a recent Digital Pivot post entitled Three Reasons Why Flipboard is Not Just Another Pretty Face, Lisa Thorell explains that it’s the potential of the platform that has many in the tech world excited. Speaking on Flipboard’s potential ad revenue, the semantic indexing capabilities that allow for consumer/user customization “across their social network based around any ad hoc topic of choice,” she explains how this puts Flipboard in an interesting position.  “It is, in fact, this advanced technological competence that will distinguish Flipboard’s position in the ad-value chain, much as Google became an ‘intermediary’ with Google AdWords.”

The growth of ad and revenue expectations aren’t the only thing that Thorell and others mark as extraordinary, but also the potential learning capabilities, similar to Netflix, that could spring from the Flipboard medium. Much like Netflix customizes to your viewing pleasure, Flipboard is well on its way to possibly the same idea function with your reading. While this is still in works, it is a revolutionary concept in the publishing platform.

Flipboard recently raised $50 million, and has gained $111 million to date. Flipboard plans to use this funding for its expansion, hiring people to sell ads, acquiring more engineering staff, and generally growing their offices in New York and Beijing. Needless to say, they aren’t slowing down.

Flipboard users can expect a comprehensive, functional platform. I use it for most of my own reading, an average of more than an hour a day.

Taking a few screenshots of my own Flipboard from my iPhone, individuals can see how alluring and capable a system it is:

screenshots of flipboardscreenshots of flipboardscreenshots of flipboard

These are just some of my own Flipboard subscriptions. If I want to save articles I’ve read for later, I simply add them to my own created magazine aggregator, Illuminated Balloons. Users can create their own magazine aggregators. Up in the corner of each article is a plus sign, which allows you to keep articles you wish to save for later. Other users may then search through your individualized collection of content and subscribe. Many have created genre-specific collectives that make it easier for fans of certain topics (surfing, Game of Thrones, etc.) to find their areas of interest.

Flipboard is a publishing platform that has changed the way we think about reading, finding, and viewing our news and favorite editorials.  It plays to our notions of digitally shared content and instant gratification. It’s a treat for users and a solution for publishers.

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