Pros and Cons of the AP’s New iCircular

Today, the Associated Press and 40 newspapers, in association with almost two dozen retail chains, launched the iCircular, a mobile app version of the popular coupons found in Sunday newspapers.

“The iCircular product is a way to match up a historical newspaper marketplace with the new mobile era,” Mary Junck, chairman of the AP’s board of directors’ revenue committee and chief executive of Lee Enterprises Inc., told the Wall Street Journal.

But will this new app sink or swim?

In the past, the ad circulars found in Sunday papers across the country have been immensely popular and were/are one of the reasons why Sunday papers still have large circulations. The move, unsurprisingly, is just one more way newspapers are trying to increase sagging revenue sales and benefit from the booming mobile market.

Currently, the launch is in test-mode and the app, which is only available on the iPhone, can be found on the papers’ already existing mobile sites. (It should be coming out on the Android marketplace in the near future.)

“We didn’t want to create an app separate from the newspapers. We wanted something that would be as integrated into the newspapers as a Sunday circular is in the print editions,” Junck said to paidContent.

Here are some pros and a con of the new service:

Pro: Similar Mobile Ad Circulars Have Worked
The AP is not the first news organization to delve into the world of digital shopping. In 2008, Gannett bought ShopLocal, its online retail marketing unit. In 2010, ShopLocal reported a 22 percent increase in Black Friday promotions in its online circulars compared with 2009, according to Yahoo! Finance.

Con: Revenues From Ad Circulars Aren’t A Sure Thing
In 2010, circulars generated $5.2 billion for newspapers but that number is expected to decline, research firm Borrell Associates tells the Wall Street Journal. Part of the reason is because more and more businesses, such as direct-mail companies and Internet companies, “have launched products aimed at attracting ad dollars historically directed to print circulars,” writes the WSJ’s Emily Steel.

Pro: It Shows News Organizations Are Being More Flexible and Open-Minded
For too long, newspapers were behind the times when it came to online innovations. The AP’s adoption of the iCircular demonstrates the company’s willingness to try new things, even if they fail. Hopefully, that flexibility and being more open to new ideas will help newspapers continue to survive, and maybe even start to thrive again.

What do you think about the iCircular? Will it succeed or flop?

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post stated as a con that the iCircular was only available on iPhones. It is also available on Android devices. Thanks to readers Jlitvack and jasonpurdy for correcting me.