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Personalised digital magazine app Flipboard aims for 150 million users



Personalised digital magazine app Flipboard is aiming to pass 150 million users in 2014, thanks to enhanced discovery and search tools that will allow users to better explore the 5m individual online magazines already created.
The company, founded in 2009 by Mike McCue, former chief executive of telephone app specialist Tellme, and Evan Doll, once senior iPhone engineer at Apple, launched "the world's first social magazine" for iPad in 2010. The app allowed users to create digital magazines, which mimic the experience of a print publication, from updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Flipboard immediately began to pivot towards more traditional media, however. In December 2010 it created a framework for publishers to "iPadify" their work, enabling readers to "flip" selected magazine content from publishers' Twitter and Facebook feeds into Flipboard pages. Then in March 2013 it launched Flipboard 2.0, which included an open curation platform that allowed users to create their own Flipboard magazines by adding content from across the web at the touch of a button.
At the time, Flipboard had 50 million users. This had risen to 100 million by December 2013, when the company closed a $100m funding round that valued Flipboard at $800m. McCue anticipates an even stronger performance this year. "Do I think we can pass 150 million users in 2014? Oh yeah," he says. And 200 million? "I hate to be quoted on specific projections. But I think that the growth will continue and the pace will accelerate."
Key to this is Flipboard 2.0, which McCue says has been a huge success, up from the 3m personal magazines created by September 2013 to the present figure of more than 5m. "This has taken off like wildfire," McCue says, highlighting the "incredibly deep and broad" range of topics these magazines cover. "If you are into cartography, map-making, for example, there are a whole load of magazines about that. This is just the beginning. As we further enhance the curation abilities you are going to get higher and higher quality magazines."
The problem for the moment is how to find them. With 5m user magazines and media partners from the Financial Times to Vanity Fair, it can be difficult for Flipboard users to locate the publications that cater to their interests. This is something that Flipboard intends to address in 2014. "You will see us [in 2014] start to enhance our discovery capabilities, making the discovery capabilities work with all these magazines that people are creating, so that you will be able to discover this stuff," McCue says.
Flipboard, then, has money and a growing user base. What it arguably doesn't have is a tried and tested business plan. The company currently makes money by selling full-page display ads, which are inserted between pages in Flipboard magazines. These ads, which cost 10 times as much as traditional web banner ads, are sold by publishers' own sales teams with the revenue shared by Flipboard.
McCue says that these ads are "doing really well", although the road to date has been slightly bumpy. In June 2012 two Condé Nast titles, the New Yorker and Wired, decided to stop selling ads on the platform, replacing their meaty Flipboard magazines with watered-down versions that redirect readers to their own websites if they want to read full articles.
McCue views the absence of the New Yorker as a "pause", and expects the venerable US weekly "to get their programme back up and running again". "We have a great relationship with Condé Nast and they are adding more and more of their publications [to Flipboard]," he says.
Perhaps these teething troubles were to be expected. McCue has called Flipboard adverts "a new kind of ad unit", which therefore may take time to bed in. What is more, publishers are naturally wary of letting an intermediary come between them and their readers.
McCue says Flipboard ads "blend the best of both worlds": the beauty and brand power of print, with the functionality of online advertising. "We have advertising that mimics print in the look and feel, full-page ads from companies like Gucci, Burberry and Banana Republic. They feel like part of the content.
"The advertising in print is totally better than advertising online," he argues. "On the web you have banner ads and pop-up screens that cut apart the content. In print you have a full-page ad with beautiful copy. People would never dream of buying Vogue without adverts, whereas online people hate ads."
Not everyone is so convinced by his reasoning, however. "In the modern day time-pressured business environment for clients and agencies, adding a new ad unit and creative to sell that isn't scalable to other parts of your ad strategy could be problematic; it may be a case of 'more trouble than it's worth'," says one British magazine advertising executive.
Yet McCue speaks with the optimism of a man who declares that he "loves print", from the quality of the writing to the beauty of the typography, and sees a positive future for journalism. "I think the brightest days of journalism are before it, when the code is cracked for monetising high-quality journalism online," he says. Naturally, he believes Flipboard will be a part of this by helping newspapers and magazines to move content online without sacrificing the tactile quality of print.
"Now the biggest cost of most newspapers is gasoline to transport all these physical things to print, then to get their newspapers out there," he points out. "Imagine if these publications could dedicate those kind of dollars to journalism instead.

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