Wanderful Media has big media partners and lots of cash, but that can't save its Find&Save iPad app

By Michael Carney , written on October 11, 2013

From The News Desk

Oh, Sunday newspaper circulars. You know those waxy paper pamphlets announcing weekly sales that are filling up our landfills. They're as about as old as the papers they’re delivered in and they’re equally as irrelevant in today’s digital world. But despite the best efforts of media companies and consumer brands, all attempts to date to modernize the circular concept have fallen short.

Wanderful Media is looking to change that, and today extended its popular Web-based Find&Save digital circular brand to the iPad. The launch of an iPhone version is expected to follow within one week.

Although Wanderful is just two years old, it is far from your traditional upstart. The company was formed by a dozen of the largest media conglomerates in America, which collectively represent 450 newspapers – including The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, The San Francisco Examiner, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, among them – which reach 80 percent of all US markets. The companies also attract more than 100 million unique Web visitors each month to their Find&Save-powered “Shopping” pages, giving the Find&Save mobile apps access to a built-in audience.

The premise of Find&Save for iPad is that the large touchscreen provides the best experience within which to browse digital circulars, according to Wanderful CEO Ben Smith – far better than the a PC-based Web browser ever could. The theory seems justified given that beta users of the company’s iPad app have spent on average 20 times the amount of time in the app each month than they had using the company’s Web product previously.

But it’s not enough to simply digitize circulars, rendering them into glorified PDFs, and Smith and his team know as much. Find&Save aims to personalizes the deals delivered to each consumer through a combination of surveys, social data, and geo-fencing data. The company also built in additional features like new sale alerts, drag and drop lists and favorites creation, and notifications of expiring offers.

“There have been lots of attempts to take circulars to the PC, but it didn't make sense until the tablet came along,” Smith says. “We think we’ve come up with a much more compelling offering.”

Yes, Find&Save has brought some modern convenience to the world of the newspaper circular. And by virtue of the sheer magnitude of its backers, and the scale of their existing audiences, it’s likely that the new iPad (and soon iPhone and iPod touch) app will prove popular among consumers. But nonetheless, this still feels like a stopover on the way to the future of mobile discounting.

Apps like Shopular, GroceryIQ (owned by, ListBliss, and a dozen others all offer a more compelling mobile shopping and saving experience. Wanderful has a 70 person team and more advantages than the most of its competitors combined. Find&Save for iPad is a major upgrade from paper circulars, and even from the company’s own Web-based offerings. But it's still not best in class.

Mobile circulars aren’t just an improvement for the consumer, however. The sensors within tablets and smartphones allow retailers to “close the loop,” and measure changes in “walk ins,” or the frequency a consumer visits each retailer, as well as purchase conversions. For the first time, advertisers will have real data by which to measure the ROI on their circular advertising spend. And this creates a powerful incentive for these companies to drive their existing customers toward Find&Save’s mobile apps.

Wanderful gets more than just traffic from its media backers. Those companies, which include Advance Digital, A. H. Belo Corporation, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., Cox Media Group, The E. W. Scripps Company, Gannett Co., Inc., GateHouse Media, Inc., Hearst Corporation, Lee Enterprises, MediaNews Group, The McClatchy Company, and The Washington Post Co, have collectively contributed $36 million in financing to the venture.

This makes them particularly “invested” in its success. It’s a good thing too, because managing 450 different agendas and personalities can be “complex,” in Smith’s words. While Wanderful has its own sales and direct relationships with its largest advertiser like Macy’s and SafeWay, the company outsource its dealings with regional and local advertisers to the newspaper’s sales infrastructure. For all the leverage this creates, the unpredictability seems to be a steep price to pay.

Wanderful’s CEO compares the business to Hulu,, and CareerBuilder, each of which was established by a collection of media companies looking to evolve in the digital age. If he’s successful, Wanderful will one day replace a meaningful portion of the $4 billion circular business that’s slowly eroding out from under his 450 newspaper partners.

Hulu,, and CareerBuilder are perhaps appropo examples, given that they all grew to meaningful size, but have all struggled to own categories which they rightfully should have. Wanderful is saying all the right things and has a healthy enough disdain for the traditional paper circular than it may one day solve the mobile shopping problem. Find&Save for iPad, however, is not that savior.

[Image via CookieCrunchicles]