In 2011, it was meant to break new grounds in the news world, with its atomic style of reporting. It was meant to make the most of its first-mover advantage. It was meant to replace big game apps such as Angry Birds. It was meant to be a free app. It was meant to dazzle users with its interesting set of features. It was meant to do so many other incredible things.
And yes, of course, Circa did successfully manage to execute several of them.
And then June 24, 2015, happened.
The app bombed.
Apparently, the CEO and founder Matt Galligan was pretty confident about the app’s best points when he had a one-on-one with verge.com. This is what he told Verge.
“We’re trying to make it so that people educate themselves for 5 minutes as opposed to play Angry Birds,” Galligan said to the Verge.com.
Atomic News – Circa’s Surefire Strategy That Got Back-fired
But sadly, the very strategy ‘atomic news,’ in short, news in ‘bullet points’ which he thought would keep the app up and running, actually colluded its degradation. (And, for your information the very strategy that seemed imbecile to many, has been copied by several existing news app, including NYT Now. Anyway.)
Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is, until April 2015, Circa News was doing all good. Its name was taken among the best news apps.
Then, suddenly out of the blue, the shutdown was announced, that too by the app founder Matt Galligan himself on medium.com.
This is Galligan’s farewell speech on Medium:
“It’s with great disappointment that we let you know that Circa News has been put on indefinite hiatus. Producing high-quality news can be a costly endeavor and without the capital necessary to support further production we are unable to continue. Our mission was always to create a news company where factual, unbiased, and succinct information could be found. In doing so, we recognized that building a revenue stream for such a mission would take some time and chose to rely on venture capital to sustain. We have now reached a point where we’re no longer able to continue news production as-is.”
So, there it goes.
Circa’s news ship sunk, leaving pointillism of a hazy trail, while its rival NYT Now’s ship though struggling in the high seas, has somehow managed to stay afloat…constantly changing its app strategies to stay nimble.
New York Times’ app NYT Now launched last year, was recently re-launched as a free app. Previously, users had to cough up $8 dollars to subscribe the app. No matter what, Apple named it as one of the best apps of 2014
Nevertheless, Circa did several good things that struck-a-right-chord with the users.
The Circa app was initially funded by Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh and Tumblr founder David Karp
Mind it. The app was more or less perfectly window- dressed with a bushel of pioneering features. Even then it fell short on user expectations.
Circa more or less was perfectly window- dressed with a bushel of pioneering features. Even then it fell short on user expectations
Circa’s Checklist Included The Following
Matt Galligan – CEO & Co-founder @ Circa
- Send notifications on news updates – Check
- Enable users browse latest headlines without signing in – Check
- Articles to be laid out in bulleted formats together with videos for easy consumption – Check
- Enable users follow a story and even stay updated on the same – Check
- Enable users to sharing news on various social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and more – Check
- Check marking a story to ensure to help users know they have read the same – Check
- To offer a combination of quotes, facts, and photos – Check
- Extract popular news from Twitter and Facebook and then put them in circulation – Check
- To offer it as a free app with no ads whatsoever – Check
Check. Check. Check. Yes, every damn feature was taken care of in the app development phase; nearly all bells and whistles covered, anything and everything that could bode well with the users was seriously taken care of.
But then, things didn’t seriously fall in place for this news app. The app is on an infinite hiatus now due to lack of funding.
Circa pioneered a number of interesting features, including the ability to follow a breaking news story, but it never figured out how to make money. – Fortune.com
So, what went wrong for the app?
Circa’s Checklist Gladly Forgot The Following
#1. Originality In Content
Well, Circa strung together stripped pieces of content from different resources. So there was very little originality in content.
Agreed, this is an age of rehashing content. But then, when you are operating on a larger scale, you need to stretch out a little, sweat a little, add some elbow grease and some more to produce some original content as well. Yes, of course, Circa did that; occasionally weaved in original data as well into its reports. But then, it wasn’t enough for the users. Too much of content stripping, and on top of it offering news in bulleted formats (atomizing) didn’t bode well with the users. In fact, Circa had hired a team to just strip and string pieces of content together for its app.
“What we’re really doing is adding structure to information,” said David Cohn, Circa’s chief content officer.
Regardless of Cohn’s justification, the app’s content didn’t make much sense to the users.
#2. In-depth Analysis of News
Unlike newspapers, online publications are known to flesh out content. They make it a point to add analysis, expert opinions among many other things. Circa didn’t factor in this aspect. Obviously, when your content doesn’t have enough meat in them, users are sure to show their rear to you sometime or the other.
Users went back to their original ways and started browsing the web for more info. It’s ironic that an app that was ideally meant to save users time ended up adding more work to their pile.
#3. Emotional Content
Hey! This is the age of creativity as well. And if the content is emotionally appealing, it tugs at users’ heart strings. Go ahead, read Upworthy.com to know what emotional content is all about. Did Circa people give a thought to it? No, not at all. If they had, they won’t have succumbed to the charms of bland bulleted listing.
All said and done, flavorless content dries up your audience in no time. In no time, Circa’s did.
#4. Sharing Content On Social Media Sites
When the content is sloppy only ‘Good God’ could help you. Because such content doesn’t find fans, in shorthand, shares that easily. A creative headline that makes you go wow- wow, content that raises eyebrows, stops you dead in your tracks and so on, finds colossal shares. No wonder, Circa’s atomic news didn’t find takers in the social media world.
#5. Concrete App Monetization model
Yes, Circa didn’t have any revenue model, in place in the first place. No advertising. No subscriptions. According to founder Matt Galligan, the app never did have enough user base (1,00,000 in Android) to generate revenue from advertising or subscriptions. Survival was always, always a question for this app.
The company, of course, did some experimenting with native ads and even held discussions on licensing the software as a content management system. But the company never really had a proprietary technology for which it could command a high price.
Some Questions That Need Answers
If ‘atomic news’ style of reporting was so much rebuffed by the users then why did New York Times come up with an app (NYT Now) that copies Circa to a degree with its bullet-pointed style of reporting.
Why BuzzFeed News’ new app is also adapting the Circa approach?
Probably the answer lies in the fact that Circa’s bullet points were pretty bland. If they were juicy enough, in all probability, users would have lapped it up left, right and center.
Social networking giant Facebook may have come up with a news app recently called ‘Notify, however, there’s no coming around the fact that the failure ratio among the news-related startups is inordinately high as opposed to start-ups in other categories. If biggies like the Washington Post and Boston Globe are going through tough times, we could say that Circa’s downfall more or less was there on the cards.
Beaten, But Not Out
Last heard from Galligan, “we’re still working through an opportunity to keep the technology and spirit of Circa alive.”
Over To You Now
What do you think? What sort of strategies could help news apps like “Circa’ to survive and thrive? Paywall business model apparently didn’t work for even biggies like New York Times. So, forget it. One might even consider a free app as the safest bet, coupled with in-app advertising and all. That seems fair enough. And, yes, let’s wait and see, whether Facebook’s new News App ‘Notify’ will be able to turn the tables around.
Anyway. Do you have any other news app marketing strategy that could blow our minds away?
Go ahead… we are all ears.