Publishers of every stripe have wrestled, at some point, with some variation of this question: Are we better off developing a slick app or a killer mobile website? Strong cases can be made for both approaches to delivering a publication to a mobile audience.

Mobile Themes are Sooooooo Good/Easy/Cheap

Mobile and mobile-ready themes for your CMS site are plentiful, cheap, and many of them are incredible. Therefore, there are some out there who can make a strong argument that the hassle of app development and costly maintenance is unnecessary. Here are some of the pros of developing a good mobile web site:

  • Web-site-based publications are platform independent, meaning you don’t need to wrestle the iOS/Android/Kindle/Windows bear.
  • Publishing and maintaining a mobile site is as easy as updating your web site—there is no submission/approval process like in the app stores.
  • Content updates are instant.
  • E-Commerce is controlled by you. There are no Apple Store or Google Play middlemen to meddle with your moola.
  • Mobile, mobile-ready, and responsive themes can be had cheap—many for under $100.

So good. So easy. So cheap.

Now, let’s look at apps. What can be said for them?

Apps are Sooooooo None of Those Things

From a publisher’s point-of-view, the development and maintenance of an app is a horrendous proposition. The folks who argue for mobile web site development will make the following—entirely correct—points:

  • You will need to find a new app-specific development firm.
  • App development is complicated and slow. You will need to pick one or several platforms for which to develop the app. What sorts of devices do your readers have? Do you know?
  • Once developed, your app may take weeks to navigate the app store’s approval process.
  • You will give 30% of any money earned within the app directly to a gigantic and already-affluent corporation.
  • Quality, custom app development starts at around $30,000. Ambitious apps are easily six figures.

So, after everything is taken into account, it is clear to see why so many publications take the mobile-theme route. No one can blame them. And, at this point, you may be wondering if this post has been mistakenly titled. It hasn’t. After all is said and done, apps are the better choice. Here’s why.

Apps Build Better Relationships with Your Readers

Let’s remove the publisher’s development and maintenance hassles from the argument. Let’s also remove cost from consideration. What we’re left with is experience. Apps will give your readers a better interaction with your publication and your content.

An app resides on a reader’s mobile device. Whereas, a mobile site resides on a server and is accessed through a reader’s mobile device. The difference isn’t only technological—it is also experiential. A reader carries your app around every day, and that makes some great things possible.

Here are three ways apps will help you build a stronger relationship to your readers than a mobile site ever could.

  1. The Icon

    We stare into the screens of our mobile devices for more minutes a day than we realize—or, if we do realize, it’s probably more time than we care to admit. In all that swishing, and flipping, and sliding around, we see and recognize icons. Sometimes we’re looking for a particular thing, and sometimes we’re just looking to pass the time. Apps offer publications the chance to insert their content and communities into the everyday routines of readers. The act of downloading an app by a reader is the confirmation of a relationship between reader and publisher.

    (Astute readers will comment that a few mobile browsers will allow users to place a web bookmark, in the form of an icon, on a mobile devices home screen. That’s true. I would argue that a small percentage of users will know how to accomplish that feat.)

  2. Offline Reading

    Mobile devices lose service. Frequently. In these cases, mobile web sites only frustrate readers. Apps, however, make offline reading possible. Your readers will have a better interaction with your latest or most-popular content if it has been pre-loaded via automatic and invisible updating. Publish a new story and sit back in smug satisfaction while you picture it landing instantly in 10,000 pockets, ready-to-go. Readers appreciate the “it just works” experience.

  3. Push Notifications

    Apps have access to functions on mobile devices that web sites can’t reach. Push notifications is a big one—the Ol’ Buzz In 10,000 Pockets trick. This function is a double-edged sword that an uncareful publisher could inadvertently use to sever a relationship. But…if used well, push notifications allow publishers to interact with readers in new and interesting ways. Publish a new issue? Buzz. Time for a webinar? Buzz. Got breaking news? Buzz.

The relationship a publisher has with readers is paramount in this day of constant content. Familiarity breeds trust. And there are few things we’re more familiar with these days than the mobile devices in our hands. Integrating your publication—via an app—into your readers’ devices, and then delivering value to them every day (or every publication cycle), will reward you with strong relationships.

While the level of interaction, the device integration, and the fit and finish that’s possible in an app is certainly compelling, the substantial development cost, time, and hassle cannot be so easily removed from the debate. So what’s the answer?

We have one.

Here’s a Neat Thing….

We, here at zeen101, are building publishing tools for publishers. This Fall, we took on the “mobile site vs app” question. After much debate and many text messages filled with colorful emoticons, we decided that there should be a way to not only remove cost, time, and hassle from the debate, but from the app development process entirely. And, crazily enough, that maybe we (and our partners at Brisk Mobile) were the team that could do such a thing.

The result is UniPress—an e-commerce-ready publication app framework for Apple iOS and Android devices that allows any publishers using WordPress to release their publications—whether streaming or issue-based—as apps. If you’re interested, you can get the full sales-pitch at getunipress.com—which, at the time of this writing, isn’t quite ready-for-primetime…but a sneak-peak wouldn’t hurt.

Here’s a quick rundown of how this works:

  1. You contact us. You ask questions. You like UniPress. You sign up.
  2. We set up your app and link it to your WordPress site.
  3. We submit the app to the Apple and Google app stores. The app publishes.
  4. You continue to update your WordPress site just as you always have…except now all your content is streaming to your site AND into 10,000 pockets. (That is, of course, after 10,000 people download your app.)

Click the links to see an example of UniPress in action from DK on Pittsburgh Sports and his 6,000+ subscribers: Site, iOS app, Android app.

UniPress in Action
The DK on Pittsburgh Sports app. Made possible by UniPress.