Metro Hails Newsstand For Strong Downloads, High Engagement

UK free commuter newspaper Metro‘s new iPad Newsstand edition has proved almost as popular within two weeks of launch as its predecessor had been over a whole year.

The app clocked 155,000 downloads in the 11 days between launch on October 12 and October 23, an excited Metro executive digital director Jamie Walters tells paidContent. The edition is seeing 60,000 daily users (October 24) and 800,000 to 1 million daily page views.

We’re absolutely delighted,” Walters says. “There’s a hell of a lot of engagement from people who are using it, usage levels are fantastic. It’s exceeding expectations, although we had reasonably high expectations.”

The new tablet edition app, which is backwards-compatible with pre-Newsstand iOS 4, hit iTunes Store alongside the existing Metro Online app, which gives a 24/7 experience on iPhone and iPad. The existing app had 240,000 got all-time downloads since its launch in July 2010. The new daily edition, which is not quite a replica but which borrows heavily from the print experience, is therefore a bigger, quicker success.

I instinctively thought that Newsstand will work, particularly for us, because one of the issues around a daily title is getting people to download today’s edition,” Walters says. “There are many other things on an iPad which can grab your attention. The right time to download is overnight.”

Under iOS 5, Metro’s new editions are beamed to the app between 3am and 5am every morning, in time for the morning commute. The app itself feels like swiping through a deck of cards, each containing a story or photograph, and feels natively iPad. “We didn’t want to overcomplicate it,” Walters adds. “Metro is about simplicity.”

“Our initial understanding was that there weren’t going to be free products in Newsstand, then that changed,” Walters says. “Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) said, ‘We’d like you to be in the Newsstand product’ and we leaped at the opportunity – the results have been phenomenal. iTunes has been great in promoting the product.”

Metro is gung-ho about the ad sales opportunity and will stay free on iPad like its print edition, which is handed out free at train stations. “We’re having 15 to 20 percent click-through rates on ads,” Walters says. “Ad interaction is as high as for the editorial content. We’re only having full-page ads.

“It is a distinct sell. It’s a new kind of digital sell in my view. These ads aren’t ad-served, they are consumed more like a print ad than a digital ad. This could rewrite the digital advertising market to some degree. The brand opportunity is much higher than on a banner. People are consuming the product in a much more engaged way. ”

Though the app borrows from the print package rather than the website, its content is not automatically shovelled from newspaper lay-outs. “We’ve got a team of people delivering this on a daily basis,” Walters says. “We had to put some upfront investment in putting a team in place. There was an element of risk there but it’s paid off. You just don’t get the same quality of product with an automated process – you’re in competition with people who have created high-quality products.” The product is produced using MobileIQ’s Pressrun software.

The new Metro app’s download count is about the same number clocked by The Guardian’s in the same timeframe. New York Times’ iPad downloads increased sevenfold to about the same rate, 189,000 in a week. Some magazine publishers also reported early strong uptake. If it is the case that users who upgraded to iOS 5 are stuffing their iPads with promoted newspaper apps to try out, the publishers will better hope that the novelty doesn’t wear off. At least in Metro’s case, users have the certainty that it will remain free.

The previous Metro Online app and website, which has been seeing audiences double in the last year to nearly five million unique users, will stay in place as “complementary” products, while the new app will launch on Android within six months and, later, as a HTML5 web app. The newspaper has a particularly digitally-minded readership demographic of 18-44 ABC1s in full-time work.

The UK Metro is published by Associated Newspapers in DMGT’s A&N Media and is not part of Metro International.