Olga Ivanova, Mobile Projects Director for RBTH took the time to talk to us about the changing Russian media landscape, the challenges of making an app for the international market and the global reaction to the Touch Russia app.
Russian media is not the most responsive of sectors in the industry; the "Russian media are generally a year, sometimes two years behind world media trends, especially when it comes to digital," Ivanova told WAN-IFRA.
Across the globe, the problem of developing a successful payment model in the digital age has lead firms to hesitate before plunging into the digital market - Russia is no exception to this trend: "Most brands are afraid to invest in mobile and develop expensive sophisticated apps because it is not clear how to monetize those products, especially in Russian economy. But I feel that everyone understands the importance of being on mobile platforms and expanding digital presence, " Ivanova explained.
It would seem that Rossiyskaya Gazeta has adopted an intrepid digital strategy in launching the new app: "Rossiyskaya Gazeta (and RBTH is a part of it) took its chances and developed what is now one of the most advanced and sophisticated mobile apps on the Russian media market, the Touch Russia app. That's what makes us different." The fact that the content is written in English provides an international edge, which could prove valuable as, according to Ivanova's research, there are only 100,000 Apple iPads in Russia and even fewer tablets from other brands. The ability to export content may prove to be a key element in crafting a workable business model for app-related sales.
"Compared to other Russian media, RBTH is in a very special situation: we are a niche product and we have to compete with almost 5,000 news apps and 400,000 other apps in the foreign AppStore". So, how to does Touch Russia manage to distinguish itself from the plethora of news apps jostling for attention in the AppStore window? Ivanova and the team knew they "had to offer something that immediately grabs the user's attention. This is when visuals came into the picture. Luckily, we at RBTH do have lots of wonderful content to show: photos, videos, opinions, and interactive graphics."
While the Touch Russia team may be certain of the demographic they are aiming to reach with said new app, they are not exempt from the widespread uncertainty about how to make digital content pay. "The next step is to try out different business models" and see which strategies prove most effective, Ivanova commented. In the case of this app, the RBTH team "combined both ... monthly subscription delivery and daily updates" to enable them to reap the benefits of both models.
In terms of tailoring the app to the foreign market, there are some fairly sizable obstacles to overcome; not least the fact that, for many people, Russian current affairs are something of a mystery. Russia is a country with a turbulent history and a political climate that remains somewhat difficult to navigate, particularly for international readers, who may not have an in-depth knowledge of Russian cultural history. Ivanova stated it was "very important" to provide the appropriate context for current affairs stories so that the international audience can fully understand their significance in Russian society. The app uses digital and multimedia storytelling devices, such as blogs and interactive maps to contextualise the news stories of the day.
In this respect, Touch Russia isn't all about getting news first, it's about gaining insight: "We don't deliver news, we are not a news agency. We tell stories. Yes, on the front page of the Touch Russia app you will see current events coverage. But if you go deeper you will find features that are not time-sensitive, they will truly help the user understand Russia's history and culture, get a different vantage point."
Source: interview with Olga Ivanova, Mobile Projects Director for Russia Beyond the Headlines