Scribd’s New App Float ~ Making Mobile Reading Enjoyable
The experience of reading on your smartphone leaves much to be desired. Content is spread out across multiple apps, littered with distracting links and advertisements, and almost always requires an internet connection to render properly. Meet Float, an iPhone app developed by social document sharing site Scribd. With an emphasis on news publications, Float pulls in essential content such as bylines, text, and photos from 150+ publishing partners including The Huffington Post and TIME. By stripping away links, ads, and other annoying distractions synonymous with mobile content, Float provides a truly homogenous reading experience.
Enjoyable & Social
Float’s name is derived from its new way of navigating content, allowing users to either scroll vertically or flip through content horizontally like a book, thus allowing you to “float” through your reading material. It looks and works great, incorporating a number of additional features to further optimize content for mobile viewing. For instance, Float re-renders content when you zoom in, leaving images and text crisp. The app also features a night time reading mode which changes the background black and text white, a format that in low light conditions will be easier on the eyes.
Float links to your Scribd account, allowing users to download content for offline viewing. Inheriting Scribd’s social DNA, Float also allows users to share out content via Facebook and Twitter. The app will search for content that your friends have posted, aggregating this content in a stream for offline viewing as well (although content ported from social channels will be excerpts unless it is from a publishing partner).
Monetization Is Paramount
Many of you are probably wondering how Float is going to make any money for itself and its publishing partners. To monetize in the future, Float intends to run ads across some currently available content. This is an obvious strategy, but will compromise the app’s current reading experience, something central to its value proposition. In the long-term, Float hopes to impose a paywall on the app. For a flat fee, users will be able to access a host of ad free content that they would otherwise have to jump over multiple paywalls for.
This long-term monetization plan would require the support of publishers, which is a daunting task for several reasons. Firstly, news publishers (even hallmark names like The New York Times) aren’t exactly booming financially. As a result, publishers will likely pass on the opportunity to push their content through Float, which would generate a fraction of the revenue that they could net by launching their own mobile app. Secondly, unless you are a niche user who needs upwards of 150 news outlets (journalists, academics etc.), for devotees of a particular publisher there are no substitutes. This lessens the fear that publishers may have of loosing readership if they charge for their digital content, giving them a second impetus to venture into the mobile and social media spaces alone.
Float is an interesting channel for publishers wishing to push their content out to a large existing user base. The potential for content to go viral via Float’s sharing functionality is something that will be very appealing to publishers as well. Given Float’s slick interface which solves many of the most salient problems associated with reading mobile content, it will no doubt appeal to users everywhere. However, Float’s ability to successfully monetize itself without alienating both its users and publishing partners will be the true determinate of its long-term success.