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Apps and free trials: Has The Telegraph got it wrong?

The Daily Telegraph released its iPhone and Android smartphone apps earlier this month, offering users a free one-month trial of its new service.

Users who sign up can access news content, live financial data and video and picture galleries.

The Telegraph has achieved successful engagement levels on its iPad app so it makes sense to add smartphone apps to its portfolio.

The apps cost £1.99 per month following the free trial, which is similar to pricing models offered by other publishers.

However, to sign up for the ‘no obligation’ free trial, Android users first have to enter their credit card details, which seems to misunderstand the mobile user altogether.

Mobile users want simple apps with minimal barriers between them and the desired content or purchase.

The process is much smoother on iPhone as it is paid for through the user’s iTunes subscription, which obviously isn’t possible on the Play Store. 

In our ten best practice tips for mobile checkouts we point out that mobile sites shouldn’t make registration compulsory and should keep form filling to a minimum.

Entering credit card details on a mobile isn’t a convenient process and will put many users off, particularly when they are signing up to a ‘free trial’.


It is obvious why The Telegraph wants the details up front. The hope is that if users are unhappy with the app they may forget to cancel the subscription and will keep paying the monthly fee.

Desktop users may be used to this ploy and don’t mind signing up as it is a simple process, but you can’t necessarily apply the same logic to mobile users.

The Times appears to have understood the difference, as Android users don’t even have to register an email address to begin the free one-month trial of its app.

And The Telegraph also needs to compete with The Guardian, although it obviously appeals to slightly different readerships, which gives away its app for free.

I’d wager that, thanks to the relatively simple in-app payment process, The Telegraph sells many more subscriptions for iPhone users. 

For the Android app, perhaps it is relying on regular readers who know the paper well, but allowing users to try the app and see its full functionality without having to register with card details may encourage more subscriptions in the long run. 

A broader point is that, to encourage people to pay for apps, publishers need to offer something that users can’t find free of charge elsewhere. This may be useful tools for offline reading, features like goal alerts, and so on. 

All The Telegraph’s news, sport and financial content is available on the mobile web, so it’s unclear what users will get before they have to enter card details. 

It does offer Premier League highlights through ESPN Goals, but this standalone app can be downloaded for free anyway.

So as newspapers struggle to find the best business model for monetising their content, The Telegraph’s decision to require credit card details for a free trial seems ill thought out.

After all, why would I choose to give my data away for content that is already available for free?

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