Rise of the Super Aggregator and the User-Centric Experience
How do people really get their news today?
- They do a Google search.
- They go directly to the site of a publisher they know.
- They use a news aggregator and browse stories there.
Reviewing data from Parse.ly, Nieman Labs suggests that in 2018 about 20% of traffic to the average site came from search, with an additional 23% coming from direct referrals. Aggregators accounted for only 8.4% of traffic, but that volume grew by 21% over 2017, making it the fastest changing category.
With millions of people using news aggregators daily, they’re here to stay. And your phone’s app store has countless options available, from Flipboard to Feedly to Nuzzel. But we’re now entering the age of the Super Aggregators – for want of a better term – and things look set to change.
Super Aggregators Are Here
While most aggregators either present a very simple story layout, or collect links and direct you to another website, Super Aggregators are a different breed. Google News is one, and of course Apple News is making waves these days. What they offer users is vast reach, access to a huge variety of content, and a truly user-centric experience.
Let’s look at that last point a bit further. For companies like Apple, offering a superb user experience is part of their DNA – something they care about more than almost anything else. Sure, Apple News may have a standardized format for an article’s synopsis, but once you click on that article you are brought into a virtual environment that as closely as possible mirrors the original publication. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading a Vogue article, it feels like you’re reading Vogue itself.
With the rise of Super Aggregators, the room for competition is going to be very limited. Unless they are highly specialized, any other platform is going to need to compete with the reach, breadth, and brand strength of Apple or Google. That’s going to be tough.
What does that mean for publishers? Well, for one thing, publishers need to embrace the fact that their content is increasingly going to be accessed via an aggregator. We also need to accept that the Super Aggregator is going to have some control over content, just like we needed to accept that readers were more likely to find news stories via Facebook. To survive and thrive, publishers need to apply a user-centric approach to their business and decrease friction in the reader experience.
Why? Well, for one, because publishers will need to more actively entice people to visit their site directly and then get them to stay there. That will require putting the readers first and allowing them to access content as they want. That’s what the bigger aggregators are doing – remember how both Apple and Google are mindful and respectful of a publication’s look and feel? They’re working hard to mirror the unique format of each publication so the experience is smooth and seamless.
Taking a user-centric approach means respecting the reader’s time and needs, giving them the freedom to choose which content they consume, plus when and how they want to consume it. Providing truly friction-less access to content should be at the heart of this.
Thinking Beyond Subscriptions
Subscriptions are predictable in terms of performance and revenue, but they don’t give readers real choice. True choice would be to offer content in ways that mirror the user’s consumption behavior. Someone who occasionally browses a site won’t subscribe, no matter what you do, but they may buy a few articles if it is easy. More frequent users may buy a day or a week of access if the content entices them. And the most loyal users are still likely to opt for subscriptions.
Alternatives also include membership models, where users pay each month to receive exclusive content, special deals, and advanced previews. Another variation is a reward-based system that plays off a more traditional contributions model. If, for example, a publication sources contributions for its content and a reader donates $5 for an article they enjoy, the publisher could choose to "thank" the reader, perhaps by giving them full access to the publication’s exclusive content for a couple of weeks.
If publishers limit themselves solely to existing subscription models, however, they’re effectively putting off the non-subscribing readers who come to their site directly, while also providing a user experience that doesn’t make the most of aggregators. Remember, after all, that Apple News and other Super Aggregators are directly mimicking the look, feel, and experience of the publications whose articles they’re using – including how users are encouraged to read and/or purchase additional content. If a publisher’s own user experience is sub-par, it could be inadvertently replicated on the aggregator as well, where an increasing number of readers are going to get their news.
By embracing user-centricity and providing options beyond subscriptions, publishers allow readers to consume content as seamlessly as they like. Doing so sets them up not only to retain existing readers, but also to engage with audiences that come to the site via outside sources – even Super Aggregators.
Cosmin Ene is the founder and CEO of LaterPay, a payments and technology company with offices in the US and Germany. Under Cosmin’s leadership, LaterPay has become the monetization standard for local publishers in Germany with over 200 clients, and has expanded to the US market.