App Police Episode 2: Paywall apps – the right and wrong way

App monetization is a make-it-or-break-it topic for content publishers that use mobile to drive consumption. Content owners in age old industries like real estate and newspapers are looking to mobile applications for revenue opportunities. Some do it right and some, well, stumble.

The key with subscriptions is that the customer really has to have a deep level of trust that both content and experience warrant the risk of signing up for a monthly bill. In the past, the experience was limited to just paper, then came web sites, and now with mobile being used as primary interface for content consumption people really want to feel a personalized experience with the apps they use. It’s almost like people expect apps to mold to the often busy and content-hungry lifestyle we’re grown accustomed to in the age of smartphones and tablets.

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Case Study: Foreclosure.com (the heavy-handed approach)

Foreclosure.com’s platform helps real estate investors search for foreclosed properties. They also charge $39.99 a month for access to their platform. As you can see in the app (click on the image above twice) the first screen provides some content to non-subscribers (sans the obvious bugs in the app that show “null” content – this really should be debugged). However, clicking on a selection takes the user to a detail screen but with an annoying pop-up. This is not the best approach. The experience reminds of seeing a Windows error pop-up in the middle of the screen (“hit OK to continue…”).

As a service that charges $39.99 a month they really could use a much better approach. For example, they could replace the “free” content on the screen with valuable content but some of it could be “locked” with a UI that shows a lock/key visual. And if someone wants to “unlock” the data they are taken through a journey that explains the value of the service.

The app UI also looks too much like an old mobile web site with navigational elements that are clearly too large relative to the content of the app. It’s like they took a 5 year old mobile web site and slapped it into an app.

Click twice to see the animation

Case Study: The Wall Street Journal (a better approach)

Subscriptions to newspaper content are the bread and butter to companies like WSJ. Take a look at their experience. The app actually works for a non-subscriber, and if you drill down into the content they give you a soft message on top to subscribe and navigating through it explains the value. Most important: they offer a free trial. Free trials are easy to set up with in-app purchases and it amazes me that a company that charges $40 a month doesn’t but a media company that charges about $27 a month does.

Sure these are two different industries – media content vs real estate search content. I get it. But still, Foreclosure.com could just offer even a one day trial to get people to try out their platform.

App reviewed: Foreclosure.com

App store rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars