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“Pageview uplift 7x”: How publishers such as Slate and Texas Monthly are using read-it-later apps like Pocket

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As Mark Sternberg wrote recently in Adweek, read-it-later apps are gaining traction with publishers looking for new ways to distribute content to habitual readers. For readers too, read-it-later apps serve a useful purpose by allowing content from a multitude of sources to be consumed at leisure on a single, self-curated app. Some read-it-later apps will even read stories aloud, rather like a podcast of back-to-back articles.

Whilst a number of new read-it-later apps have emerged onto the scene, such as Matter, Instapaper, Readwise and Upnext, the clear leader is Pocket. The company has been around for 15 years – an eternity in tech circles – but since its purchase by Mozilla in 2017 the company has been on a tear through its placement on the Firefox News Tab.

With help from millions of Firefox users who point the app’s Editors to interesting content, Pocket now reaches 35 million monthly visitors and for participating publishers the results have been significant. Take Texas Monthly, as just one example, where Pocket readers spend 240% more time on-site and return at a rate 17% higher than average.

Pocket Hits and the Firefox homepage both drive audiences to us and we really like those audiences. If you’re looking for a measure of engagement for content, Pocket has a spectacular one.

Allison Fass, VP of Digital Growth, Fast Company and Inc, speaking to Adweek

Content discovery on the app is boosted further by a daily newsletter, Pocket Hits, which has 4 million subscribers and a 20% open rate.

It’s not just larger publishers like Fast Company, Washington Post, and the Guardian that have benefited from partnering with Pocket either – Nautilus, a small New York publisher that reports on a single scientific topic each month, has seen Pocket account for 21% of its monthly traffic whilst pageviews on its syndicated pieces soar from 100,000 views to over 700,000 views per month. 

Pocket app

Syndication partnerships

Pocket works with media companies in two ways: organically and through syndication. Organically, Pocket sends traffic to publishers through its recommendation surfaces – Firefox New Tab, Pocket Hits and topic pages. Long-form, evergreen content performs the best with its top ten list for 2021 including How to Delete Your Old Online Accounts and Why You Should) and The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax.

Over the past two years, Pocket has also established syndication partnerships with more than 70 publishers including Bloomberg, Slate, and The Atlantic as well as more niche titles like Aeon, Narratively, and AFAR.

Speaking to WNIP, Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director, Content Discovery at Pocket explains how publisher archives are a rich treasure trove of content, “When it comes to syndication, we believe that there is amazing content in publishers’ archives that we can help to recirculate to interested audiences. Pocket pays publishers to license some of these high-quality, evergreen articles, which we then promote via our recommendations. We’ve been able to revive a lot of great content this way, extending the lifespan of older articles that are still great reads and still relevant.”

Writing in Adweek, Sternberg says that Pocket pays publishers between $125-$200 per story to recirculate an article, a figure that remains unconfirmed.

It’s a win-win for publishers – we offer a link to the publisher’s homepage in the byline, links to other recommendations from that publisher, and a call-to-action at the end that the publisher can set according to their editorial priorities (plus, of course, a licensing fee for each article).

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director, Content Discovery , Pocket

O’Hara is also at pains to stress that syndication via Pocket needn’t cannibalize a publisher’s SEO ranking, adding, “We maintain all internal links and pass the canonical back to the partner so that they can maintain search authority. We think it’s a great way to amplify great content to our audiences, and in a way that supports high-quality journalism.” 

We syndicated an article from Texas Monthly – a great story about a mother and son. It picked up a little chatter on Twitter and the author reached out to us to share how he was getting all these great incoming messages and discussion about this story he published… 10 years earlier.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director, Content Discovery, Pocket

Partnership criteria

A key obstacle for smaller publishers is often the criteria needed for syndication, especially when competing against larger peers. O’Hara says that any fears are unfounded, adding, “We have no baseline criteria. We can typically offer a dashboard on a publisher’s Pocket activity (content saves and opens) for any domain. In fact, we are always interested in discussing innovative partnership opportunities that help us connect users with content worthy of their time and attention. Publishers can get in contact with us at”

Our recent partnership with Slate has been extremely successful. The main collection of Slate’s content is among our top 10 most popular collections (of more than 220 we’ve published over the past year). This signifies that there is real user appetite and interest in this kind of content partnership.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director, Content Discovery , Pocket

As regards the future, O’Hara says that whilst new features will be added, the fundamentals of the app won’t change, “For a long time, Pocket has been a newest-to-oldest sorted list of things you saved. We’ve added some nice features around that to be sure, but the fundamentals haven’t changed.

Pocket tags

“We just announced some new features on Android and will have some updates to our iOS app later this year. We’ve also been doing a lot recently around Collections with some really great content and curation happening there – recently we worked with Adam Grant, whose New York Times article There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing was the most read article on Pocket in 2021, to create a collection of articles exploring the topic further. We also recently teamed up with Slate’s podcast hosts to create collections that were deep dives into their favorite episodes.

Pocket is increasingly broadening its commercial division too, working with publishers to surface sponsored content, as well as allowing publishers to sponsor its newsletter, Pocket Hits.

The Wall Street Journal and Pocket have worked together to expand the Journal’s audiences through dedicated email sends and Firefox placements for over three years. This has provided The Wall Street Journal with a unique opportunity to showcase their premier financial news content to a younger, highly engaged audience. We are now working to promote Barron’s and MarketWatch content as well.

Carolyn O’Hara, Senior Director, Content Discovery , Pocket

Pocket generated $10 million in revenue in 2019 through advertising and its Pocket Premium ad-free subscription (£36/year), and the company’s grown 50% year-over-year ever since (writes Sternberg in Adweek).

What’s clear is that in an era of ever-increasing fragmentation, having a single destination where a reader’s favorite content is kept is invaluable. The future for Pocket and other read-it-later apps is bright.

Photo by Mikaela Shannon on Unsplash