04 May 2016
A conversation with Editor-in-Chief, Jan-Eric Peters
"We are different from all other news aggregator out there in that we still believe in the power of journalism and think of our local editorial teams as an integral part of our success", says Jan-Eric Peters, deputy CEO and Editor-in-Chief of upday. The brand new news aggregator, created by Axel Springer in partnership with Samsung, mixes algorithm-driven selection of news with a journalist approach that, he says, sets them apart.
In this interview Jan-Eric, who was editor-in-chief of Die Welt for more than ten years, talks about these first few months of upday and how their exclusive partenership with Samsung works. He also explains why he thinks that "publishers and platforms will sort of melt [together] in the future", and that "publishers and platforms do not necessarily have to fight each other, but can also work together to create better products for their users."
In upday, articles are selected both by algorithms and by real journalists. This combination seems to be what makes upday stand out. Can you tell us more about it and why this could be your winning asset?
You are absolutely right. We strongly believe that upday’s combination of technology and journalism is our most important USP (unique selling proposition). When using other news-aggregators, people tend to only read what they are already interested in and thus get trapped in the filter bubble. Our journalistic approach prevents that and therefore sets us apart.
That’s why we have editorial teams of about six journalists in every country we have launched. The editors carefully select all the news everyone “needs to know” for our Top News section. They summarise the content and link to a relevant source.
Photo courtesy of upday
This combination, nonetheless, can also be quite expensive. How do you plan to monetise? Is it going to be only through advertisement?
We launched our product only a few months ago. Right now, we focus on growing our reach and hope to be on more than 10 million devices by the end of the year.
We obviously also want and need to monetise. For now, we only plan to earn money by integrating ads into our stream. Every tenth to twentieth card will be a non-intrusive, full-screen advertising card, that users can either click into or swipe away. As we use our own browser, the ads will not be affected by ad-blockers and most importantly, we will be able to target customers, since we know their interests.
Upday is meant for news consumers and for news producers as well. How are you targeting small and large publishers, bloggers as well traditional media?
Being part of a publishing house ourselves, we want to strengthen publishers and understand ourselves as a publisher’s platform. In that definition we include the traditional media brands, all the new digital players like Buzzfeed or The Huffington Post, but also small blogs and local content providers, as long as they are relevant for our users. We also have the advantage of being connected to many publishers and editors all across Europe and we know their pain points all too well.
Unlike Apple News or Facebook Instant Articles, we don’t force publishers into a closed system, but directly link out to their homepages and stories in their own look and feel. That has two key benefits for publishers: first of all, the publishers generate more traffic through our referrals that they can monetise themselves. Secondly, linking out to the publishers’ websites increases their brand awareness since they can determine their look and feel.
We are thirdly very willing to share data with the publishers on our platform, of course within legal boundaries. Most other platforms are very restrictive with their data, but we believe that once publishers can analyse how their content performs on upday, they can optimise their content for mobile consumption.
Upday has been defined “Axel Springer’s answer to Facebook’s Instant Articles”, what do you think about it? Do you see Upday this way yourself, or maybe more as Samsung’s answer to Apple’s news app?
We obviously observe other news offerings and especially other news aggregators and are always curious about the developments in that area. As I’ve said before, we do think that we are different from all other news aggregators out there in that we still believe in the power of journalism and think of our local editorial teams as an integral part of our success. We also believe that our interaction with the other publishers differentiates us from other content providers.
As far as one can say after having been on the market only for a very short time, our model seems to appeal very much to consumers. The user data is excellent and seems to be better than for other news apps. Or to put it this way: Samsung is very happy with our user engagement.
What can you tell us about the partnership with Samsung? Isn't it limiting to only provide to their devices?
From a legal point of view, Upday is a 100% subsidiary of Axel Springer. In daily business however it feels like a joint venture as we work very closely with Samsung.
Upday is exclusive to Samsung and thus can’t be downloaded by users of other devices. Some people would interpret that as a limitation, but we see our exclusive cooperation as a gateway to a huge audience. In Germany for instance, Samsung has a market share of almost 40% of the smartphone market.
Samsung is not only a world market leader for smartphones but also for TV screens, tablets, fridges with monitors, etc. There is thus definitely more potential for cooperation in the future. Right now we are working on a tablet version of Upday, and we will launch our app for Samsung’s smartwatch in a couple of days.
At the upcoming GEN Summit you’ll take part in a keynote dialogue that will be centered on the battle between publishers and platforms. How do you see this duel ending from your perspective of editor-in-chief of a platform that’s a spin-off of a publisher? Will platforms take over as content distributors?
When Mark Zuckerberg visited Axel Springer recently, our CEO Mathias Döpfner asked him whether he considers Facebook to be a distribution platform or a publisher. Zuckerberg answered: "Definitely a distribution platform!"
From my personal point of view, he won't say this in two or three years time, because publishers and platforms will sort of melt [together] in the future.
Last year marked the first year that the majority of users consumed news elsewhere than on the homepages of traditional media. The magic word these days is “unbundling” of content. I thus do believe that platforms will become more and more important as content distributors. I do however also think that publishers will always remain important as they are the ones producing the content that is relevant to consumers. I therefore hope that publishers and platforms do not necessarily have to fight each other, but can also work together to create better products for their users.
This article by Digiday, says that during the past six months of beta testing in Germany and Poland upday claimed that users were spending over two hours a month using the platform. Can you confirm this numbers? Where are you planning to expand?
Right now, upday is available in France, Germany, Poland and the UK. After a very successful beta phase in Germany and Poland we launched our current product at the end of February in all four countries. Since mid-March it is deeply integrated as a second homescreen on all new S7 Galaxy smartphones in these countries.
As we have only been live for a short time, we do not publish too many numbers yet, but I can confirm that each user is still using the app for more than two hours per month on average. Within this time the average user swipes several hundred times and most importantly the vast majority of our users comes back to upday on a regular basis.
What’s upday policy towards adblockers?
As advertisement is our only stream of revenues, we don’t allow the use of ad blockers within our service. By using full-screen, card-formatted ads, we try to be as non-intrusive as possible to deliver a positive ad-experience for our users.
In this article from TechAdvisor, upday is defined slow to load, but now everybody is trying to make the user experience as fast as possible. How are you working to make your app run faster?
First, when we are talking about "slow loading time", we are talking mainly about the articles we link to and not about a slow user experience within the app in general. As we define ourselves as "the publisher’s platform" we are aligned to the interests of our integrated sources. And these sources currently link via their RSS-feeds to their mobile webpages. We use and respect these RSS-feeds and the publishers’ strategy regarding the document they want to direct the users to. But of course we are in discussions with all publishers for alternative solutions, like Google AMP. Already, 25% of our German sources and 37% of our British sources are using AMP and we expect that number to rise until the end of the year.
Cover Photo, courtesy of upday