Ah, the crossword puzzle.
Long it stood as a staple of newspapers and magazines everywhere. But as print page counts were decimated in the early 2000s, the popular crossword was among the sad casualties of shrinking folios.
Now a San Francisco-based company is offering a new crossword option for publishers. Amuse Labs has developed PuzzleMe, an HTML-5 based crossword platform. The technology allows puzzles to be embedded anywhere on a website and can be tailored to look like a publisher’s native page. Publishers can also monetize puzzles, the company said.
On March 3, New York Magazine became the most recent publisher to launch an online crossword with the PuzzleMe platform. A number of other magazine and newspaper publishers, including The Washington Post and Newsday, are using the platform as well.
“As a former newspaper editor and publisher, I knew the importance of crosswords to reader habit and loyalty,” John Temple, chairman of Amuse Labs, told News & Tech. “Publishers have a real need for this because most don’t have crosswords online, so they have lost something that was a loyalty to their print publication.”
Temple is also director of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley. In his newspaper days, he served as managing editor at The Washington Post. Prior to that, he served as editor, president and publisher for the (Denver) Rocky Mountain News until the paper’s closure in February 2009. The Rocky won four Pulitzer Prizes under Temple’s leadership.
Amuse Labs grew out of Temple’s time as a senior Knight fellow at Stanford University in 2013 and 2014, where he met colleagues who had developed the technology that would eventually become PuzzleMe. Amuse Labs’ Chief Executive Officer Sudheendra Hangal is a former associate director of the Mobisocial Lab in Stanford University’s computer science department. Chief Technology Officer Jaya Hangal is a former member of the core Java team at Sun Microsystems and founder of MyFamilyAlley.com.
Capitalizing on newspaper assets
For newspaper publishers specifically, Temple said online crosswords not only build reader loyalty, but also present an opportunity for publishers to use all their assets.
“They have all of these visual assets, so they can create crosswords using video, audio, and pictures as clues,” he said.
While publishers have launched crosswords online in the past, Temple said most of those have been in an online arcade setting, which provides only a disconnected user experience. “These don’t look and feel like the publication and most publishers want control over that brand and the user experience,” he said. “The New Yorker’s puzzle, for example, mimics the exact font type and look and feel of the rest of the magazine.”
Although puzzles can be built into publishers’ native apps, most are launched on the open web and Temple said the user experience is just as good there. A web-based puzzle also attracts users without the need to buy or subscribe to an app in order to use it, and publishers tend to have higher engagement on the open web.
Publishers can also create a separate crossword offering that is independent of the newspaper or magazine subscription. The New York Times has adopted this model with a lot of success, Temple said. Monetizing the tech PuzzleMe also presents an opportunity for publishers to generate revenue. For example, some publishers have put video pre-rolls in front of the puzzle to advertise it and others have put it behind a paywall as a subscription draw.
Monetizing the tech PuzzleMe also presents an opportunity for publishers to generate revenue. For example, some publishers have put video pre-rolls in front of the puzzle to advertise it and others have put it behind a paywall as a subscription draw.
“When a publisher has a paywall, they can set it up to where users can view the puzzle a couple of times but then they are prompted to pay,” Temple explained. “We find that when the user knows what they will get from the video pre-roll, they convert.”
Online crossword puzzles can also help to drive users further into a publisher’s site. This can be done via puzzle clues, or with a puzzle, publishers can offer another puzzle or game. Amuse Labs has also developed Sudoku and word search games.
“It’s highly valuable in keeping people on a publisher’s site,” Temple said. “And we have deep analytics so people can see how long users stay, where visitors are coming from, et cetera.”
Temple said he’s excited to be part of something that can help publishers address the complicated technical challenge of creating a great user experience across mobile, tablet and desktop platforms.
“I like helping these publications create a digitally native product and making it as good as a print product,” he said. “They can take this puzzle anywhere.”