The Associated Press and 40 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, are taking one of the print industry's largest revenue sources, preprinted advertising inserts, to the mobile, digital world.
The AP's iCircular business will embed coupons and advertisements like those found bulking up the Sunday editions of newspapers into the mobile websites and apps of newspapers on smartphones and tablets.
The digital coupons and ads began rolling out to newspaper mobile sites on Monday in a testing phase, the AP said.
"You've always relied on your Sunday newspaper ads for great deals and savings. Now you can have the best of both worlds -- look at your inserts at home, then take them with you on your mobile phone," the AP said, describing its iCircular business in a statement.
The ads and inserts can be accessed through a newspaper's app or mobile site in a new built-in "deals" tab. A tap of that tab on the touchscreen devices and "you'll find all of the merchandise and products contained in your weekly preprint -- browse retailers' store ads and view product information, plus you'll be able to make a shopping list, get directions to the closest store, share with family and friends, plus many other great features and tools," the AP said.
Preprinted advertising and coupon inserts are one of the few major revenue sources for the newspaper industry, which, as noted by the site PaidContent.org, has experienced 20 consecutive quarters of advertising revenue declines.
iCircular is available to newspapers as essentially a pre-built addition that can be added to a newspaper's mobile site or app, sort of the same way that the advertising circulars are preprinted and inserted into newspapers themselves. Currently, iCircular is available as an HTML 5 insert for mobile site or an insert for apps built for Apple's iOS, which runs on the iPhone and iPad. An Android version of iCircular isn't yet built, but the AP is working on it, PaidContent said.
The program is open to all newspapers, not just papers that pay the AP for its wire service of photos, stories and video, though the AP didn't offer details on how much iCircular might cost a newspaper to implement. During the testing phase, the mobile ads are free to retailers and will later become an advertising option alongside the preprinted circulars.
For now, 20 national retailers are taking part in the iCircular testing phase, such as JCPenney, Kohl's, Kmart, Macy’s, Staples, Target, Toys R Us, Walgreens and Wal-Mart. Some regional and local retailers, such as supermarkets, are taking part in the testing phase as well.
Among the other newspapers taking part are the Chicago Tribune (which, like the L.A. Times, is owned by the Tribune Co.), New York Daily News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and "other representatives of nearly every major newspaper company," the AP said.
So, can print coupons and ads be successfully translated onto a three- or four-inch smartphone screen? Will this give readers a reason to not buy the Sunday newspaper?
Rick Edmonds, a writer for the Poynter Institute who does research on the business side of journalism, said in a blog post that iCircular looked good after he was able to demo the digital insert last week.
The preview, and an interview with those heading up the iCircular business, "left me convinced that more than a year of tinkering in the lab has produced a credible digital replica of the printed insert," Edmonds said in a blog post.
"I don't have a crystal-ball prediction on whether iCircular will fly high or flop," he added. But, "a significant presence in smart-phone commerce would count as an important business win for an industry that hasn't had many lately."
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Image: Screen shots of the AP's iCircular advertising and coupon inserts in the mobile apps of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Quad City Times. Credit: Associated Press iCircular