Digital Publishing
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15M app downloads, 3B pageviews per month: What publishers can learn from the meteoric rise of Indian news app Inshorts

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Inshorts, founded in 2013, has become one of most popular news apps in India with more than 15M downloads across Android and iOS, and 3B page views per month (Android). 

Its users are active for an average of 15.4 days per month and 4.5 days per week. The company which primarily relies on ad revenues, became operationally profitable in November 2017 after reaching $3.4M in revenue, compared to $0.4M in 2016. Its revenue for 2019-20 was $14M, according to a WAN-IFRA report.

Source: Slide deck: Technology and news (Deepit Purkayastha, DMI 2020)

“Redefine the future of news consumption via mobile”

The service was launched in 2013 by Azhar Iqubal, Anunay Arunav of IIT Delhi, and Deepit Purkayastha of IIT Kharagpur, as a Facebook page which provided 60-word news summaries. It became very popular and within a few months, the team launched a mobile app called ‘News in Shorts.’ 

The app was selected for the TLabs Accelerator program and raised seed funding from Times Internet and other noted investors, including Sachin and Binny Bansal, the founder of Indian online shopping giant, Flipkart. Sachin Bansal said at that time, “I am a user of the product and it saves a lot of my time every day. News in Shorts has the opportunity to redefine the future of news consumption via mobile.”

In 2015, the company raised about $3.4M in a Series A round from Tiger Global and Rebright Partners. It was followed by a further investment of $17.5M, four months later, in Series B led by Tiger Global. Around the same time, the company also rebranded from News in Shorts to Inshorts, to focus on content beyond news. 

“Fill that gap”

Inshorts sprung from its founders’ observation that the Indian youth was increasingly getting disconnected from the idea of reading news every day because of the long form nature of news items. 

“We found that many of our peers were not reading the news, and their primary use case was that they wanted to consume a lot of information in a small amount of time. Facebook was their preferred destination,” said Deepit Purkayastha, the Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Inshorts, in an interview with Ashwin SL, VP-Marketing at MoEngage Inc.

“Twitter had not caught up that much because it was for savvy users who know what they want and customize their feeds according to the information they want to consume. However, for most common users, this was not the case, and Facebook did not satisfy that use case. Facebook mostly carried opinionated, viral content,’’ he added. 

There was too much opinion but nothing where one could get the facts of the story right. We wanted to fill that gap. 

Deepit Purkayastha, Co-founder and CSO, Inshorts

“What Inshorts capitalized on”

Inshorts focuses on mobile-first consumability of content. The app updates its users with the what, where, why, when and how of all important news of the day in less than 60 words. 

It works on a combination of technology and form factor innovation. Inshorts’ form factor are single screen cards comprising a headline, an image, and a crisp summary. They are swipeable and allow users to quickly move through their feed which is personalized with the help of AI. The content is sourced from national and international outlets with the object of quickly updating users with all the important news for the day. 

Source: Inshorts

“Once technology and form factor begin working harmoniously, only then can a publisher leverage that disruptive force. When Inshorts was launched 6 years ago, most media companies took print content and dumped it on a website, resulting in an overwhelming consumer experience,” Purkayastha said at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media India Conference in New Delhi.

Media houses must remember to use platform-specific form factors, which is what Inshorts capitalized on.

Deepit Purkayastha, Co-founder and CSO, Inshorts

“A swiping card system will always translate to more clicks, compared to a list of links, which naturally tends to lean towards clickbait, decreasing the time spent per article,” he explained.

“Although the brand’s single screen summaries don’t grab as many eyeballs as a clickbait headline would, the comparative average time spent on an Inshorts story is 4-5 times,” adds WAN-IFRA journalist Neha Gupta.

Source: Slide deck: Technology and news (Deepit Purkayastha, DMI 2020)

“It is vital to break the echo chambers”

Inshorts uses an AI-powered algorithm called Rapid60 to condense news articles into 60-word briefs. The algorithm has been trained on a database of more than half a million articles summarised by Inshorts editors over five years. It can summarise more than 100,000 articles per month.

Since purely AI curated news can risk placing readers in filter bubbles, Inshort tries to strike a balance between algorithmic and editorial judgment. The algorithm predicts reader interest based on how much time they spend on each card.

Meanwhile, editors rate stories on a 1000-point scale. The content is then personalized for readers based on a combination of these two. However, stories that achieve a 1000 rating are delivered to readers even if they do not fall within the scope of their interest. 

Source: Slide deck: Technology and news (Deepit Purkayastha, DMI 2020)

“We wanted to maintain a balance where you find relevant stories and at the same time, get stories which probably are not entirely of your interest but are of some importance. We have not tried to make the user give clear signals to us, so that reduces the decision point from the user,” says Purkayastha

The relevance is a debated topic in the sense that on one side there is personalization, AI, ML kind of a narrative that has captured our imagination but for the news business, it is vital to break the echo chambers that are being built in various platforms that the user is already consuming. 

Deepit Purkayastha, Co-founder and CSO, Inshorts

In fact, the 20% most read content on the app is entirely editorially curated and surpasses the click-through rate of the 80% AI-selected content. 

“The company has the highest Daily Active Users (DAU) to Monthly Active Users (MAU) ratio of 42% across the board, a mother metric for consumer-oriented applications. 70% of the app downloads are organic, and 90% of the feed comprises factual hard news,” writes Gupta.

Source: Slide deck: Technology and news (Deepit Purkayastha, DMI 2020)

“3x more engagement as compared to text ads”

Inshorts is free for end consumers and monetizes via advertising through B2B channels. The platform delivers non-invasive and skippable ads that resemble its story cards. Azhar Iqubal, CEO and Co-founder of Inshorts told Varun Markande of Adgully, “Currently, we are working with almost 300+ advertisers and we add around 10 new advertisers every month. Our client list includes brands like Vodafone, Oneplus, Netflix, Mercedes, and Myntra among many others.”

Iqubal added that Inshorts uses its personalization engine to target advertisements. It analyzes the behavioral pattern of readers and their content consumption history to serve relevant ads.

Source: Inshorts

The ads offered by the platform can be “broadly divided into six categories — out of which ‘60 words branded story’ is the most preferred one. Whereas the most engaging formats are ‘Digital Magazines’ and ‘Fact Cards’; the former is a mix of creatives with gifs, videos, and polls, and latter is a compilation of interesting facts about a brand, industry or an occasion day,” writes Karuna Sharma, Associate Editor, Business Insider India.

“Fact Cards are highly engaging as they get shared on social media very often. ‘Digital Magazines’, on the other side, helped Netflix get 3x more engagement as compared to text ads for its series – ‘The Umbrella Academy,’ within two weeks of its release,” she adds.

“Effectively tapped into a whole new market”

Inshorts also conducts surveys for brands where they can get real time user feedback on any product launch. The company is planning to introduce interactive news delivery formats like graphic cards, collections and factoids. It already collaborates with Ipsos (a global market research firm based in Paris) for polls.

Source: Inshorts

“Our typical poll gets about 400,000 responders in a single day. We realize the huge ground of resources we’re sitting on, and we intend to make full use of it this year,” says Purkayastha.

In an earlier interview Iqubal had told Bart Eshwar, author at Indian business website OfficeChai, that Inshorts succeeded because it addresses the needs of the current generation.

“Young people today are in a hurry, and this format suits them. The modern world is fast paced, and a large chunk of people are moving to shorter formats of news consumption,” he commented. 

Eshwar wrote that while longform journalism fans might scoff at Inshorts’ model and its stripping away of nuance, Iqubal understood his audience. He said, “There will always be a market for longform journalism with detailed analysis.

“But Inshorts has made news consumption more accessible. We get feedback from people who say that they never read news until they came across our app. We’ve effectively tapped into a whole new market.”