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Dec. 21, 2012, 12:28 a.m.
Mobile & Apps

Pocket readies for a paywalled world with new site subscription feature

The app now makes it easier to save articles from sites that require subscription or registration.

If you’re a fan of reading on the Internet, it’s hard not to notice there are more walls going up around the stuff you want to look at. Publishers are putting up paywalls and registration gates, which can make it difficult to find and read stories even if you’re a subscriber to a site. Login credentials are turning into a kind of unwieldy and easy-to-forget baggage.

Pocket (née Read It Later) wants to make it a little easier for users to keep reading their favorite saved stories from around the web, even the ones tucked behind a paywall. The time-shifted reading app recently relaunched a feature called site subscription allows users to keep their login info within the app, making it easier to save and read stories from a site with subscriber content.

At the moment, The New York Review of Books, Matter, and Virginia Quarterly Review are the only publishers partnering with Pocket. But sites like The New York Times, The Economist, Financial Times, The Washington Post, and ESPN’s Insider are available under the site subscription feature. That means subscribers can avoid the hassle of having to enter their credentials multiple times: They don’t have to sign into both the news site and again in Pocket when they want to read a story.

It’s a small move meant to make jumping between the discovery and reading of new material less difficult. But Pocket’s new trick may prove useful as an increasing number of newspapers and magazines are paywalling their work.

“We want to make it easy for Pocket users to save the content that interests them, and this should work if they also subscribe to paywalled sites,” Mark Armstrong, Pocket’s editorial director, told me over Gchat.

Handing off authorization information to Pocket isn’t a terribly difficult task. As Pocket CEO Nate Weiner told me, it’s roughly the same as when you tell Chrome or Firefox to remember your email password. The net effect is the same, creating a seamless, “set it and forget it” functionality that makes life easier for the user and encourages deeper use. Pocket wants to have the kind of ubiquity of an email client, or, another example Weiner is fond of, a DVR. “Pocket is essentially an empty vessel people are putting things into,” he said.

As a kind of intermediary, Pocket is only useful if you have stuff to read, and increasingly people are finding things on social channels. Like a number of delayed reading services, Pocket is already integrated into services like Facebook, Twitter, but also apps like Flipboard and Zite. Those kind of connections have helped Pocket grow to 7 million users and 1 million items saved daily in the same year the app went from paid to free.

Working with publishers is a step towards making delayed reading a frictionless affair, but also demonstrating a direct connection with people who produce stories, videos, and other digestible (and savable) content. Services like Pocket take criticism for leading eyeballs away from publishers sites, not to mention their ads, and into an isolated 3rd part app. But at the moment the benefits of a publisher partnership with Pocket mostly fall to the reader by making their life a little easier. Weiner said publishers who collaborate with Pocket don’t receive any analytics or other data on readers at the moment. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be perks in the future, he said. Though Weiner didn’t go into specifics, he said the referral traffic to publishers from Pocket exceeds pageviews within the app itself. “This is the tip of the iceberg in a sense,” he said.

Weiner and Armstrong said another way Pocket can help support publishers is by providing a phone-friendly reading experience for sites that don’t have dedicated apps or mobile sites. Since Pocket is available on iOS and Android, it could act as a mobile reading alternative for some publishers. Matter is a good example, Armstrong said, because the company is putting its focus on producing long-form stories, not technology. “The added benefit for a publisher is that there’s no dev work or cost on their side, so it solves a pretty big problem almost immediately: How can I make my stories available to the widest audience across iOS, Android, and beyond, both online and offline, if I’m not going the app route yet,” he said.

Though Pocket could provide a stripped down, device-friendly method of reading, the company still lacks an incentive for publishers to hand-off their mobile experience. Site subscription is the first of what the company hopes are many new features that will entice publishers. Weiner and Armstrong said their goal in the next year is to increase collaboration with content producers. “Save-for-later has become a critical piece of the user experience, especially when it comes to reading long form content or watching long form video. So they’re very complementary when you’re talking about premium content like this,” Armstrong said.

POSTED     Dec. 21, 2012, 12:28 a.m.
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