Palo Alto-based Flipboard scored a big win Monday when The New York Times announced that for the first time it would be sharing its content with the mobile app that enables users to flip through digital content much like the way we do with print magazines.
This is reportedly the first time the Times has allowed its subscribers to get full access to its digital content through a third party.
Flipboard has been generating a bunch of news lately, actually, having just expanded beyond iOS to the Android platform last week and announcing partnerships with Google and YouTube.
In the midst of all this, I sat down with founders Mike McCue and Evan Doll to discuss the company’s origins and its future plans.
McCue had a long background in browser development, with Netscape in the 90s, and more recently with TellMe, a pre-Siri voice browser eventually acquired by Microsoft, when he met Doll, an iOS star from Apple in 2009.
Like everyone else in the Valley, the two knew Apple was preparing a tablet device, which of course was unveiled as the iPad early in 2010.
They had been envisioning an iteration of Flipboard for the iPhone but when they saw the earliest prototypes of the iPad, they switched gears.
“We decided to bet the company on it,” McCue explains. “It was clear to us that mobile, especially the tablet, plus social were going to transform everything we knew about the web.”
So far, that bet seems to be paying off pretty nicely. As of January this year, the company claimed 8 million users who generated 1.5 billion “flips” per month.
It provides users with a personalized media experience that displays your relevant Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, SoundCloud, Facebook (and now YouTube) content (among many others) integrated with excerpts and photos from some 2000 publications from around the world.
So, my question for the founders was, how do we label it? A platform, a publication, or what?
“We are a blend of things,” said McCue. “A content platform, a browser, a portal, a search and discovery engine, plus what we call a ‘social magazine.’ I kinda like that we can't be easily categorized.”
“We’re really focused on social web,” added Doll. "On seeing what your friends and family are talking about when we choose which content to display. Flipboard unifies your social networks. It’s about discovery and making sense of all the content being shared and talked about. You can take it with you anywhere. People form an emotional connection with Flipboard.”
As a result, the resulting personalized social magazines are made up of roughly 50-50 from the photos and text from your social graph and the professionally curated content created by editors, especially at Flipboard’s 80 media partners.
These include National Geographic, Vanity Fair, BBC News, USA Today, and now The New York Times.
One of the most intriguing aspects about Flipboard to one who has long worked in the media industry is the new ad model it is experimenting with. So far it is testing the system with seven partners.
The full-screen ads are beautiful, contextual, and relevant to the content in ways banner ads and even sponsored links are not, or at least not in ways that can be easily monetized.
“We know we will only be successful as a company if we can help our publisher partners monetize their content on the tablet and smartphones,” says McCue. By helping make their content discoverable in a social context, these ads can be sold for 10-15 times as much as banners. They are clicked on much more, so they're going to make far more revenue than on the web.”
The revenues share with publishers makes sense both ways. Flipboard builds the technology; the publishers build the content.
“What they (the publishers) have come to realize is that we can bring a new generation of readers to their content,” says McCue.
That would be the Millennials.