The challenge of mobile publishing

Just as publishers are starting to work out how to use the web to drive revenues, they now have to take into account the rapidly growing proportion of their readers who are using mobile devices for their business and leisure browsing.  A couple of stats I learned this week made me think again about the speed of change facing publishers.  One is a quote from Mary Meeker that in 2 years time smartphones will be more numerous than PCs, and that by 2015 65% of all web browsing will be on mobile devices.  The other is the fact that in the US Android has surpassed iphone on smartphones.  It has been possible to dismiss the hype about iphone apps and ipads in the UK as so much tech and media-land hysteria, but if android tablets are available at £200 soon, and the app universe extends beyond gadget-enthusiasts and media luvvies, then ordinary publishers will need to brush up their mobile act.  Here’s some tips to get smaller consumer or b2b publishers without the budget of a Conde Nast or Murdoch thinking about how to approach the challenge of mobile publishing:

1. Know your audience

Google analytics will show you how many of your current web visitors are accessing your site using mobile devices.  Browser usage is currently growing at c100% pa, so this number will increase.  Survey your audience to discover what devices they currently possess and how they might want to access your content in future.

2. Optimise your current site for mobile browsing

Check that your current site renders OK on mobile platforms.  Although only 10% of smartphone users browse the web on their phone, this is likely to increase, and tablet users will be more inclined to browse the web. Use a simulator to check how your site will appear.  Thanks to Andrew Talbot for these links: and  Most open source platforms like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal have mobile templates – so chat to your developer.  Oh, and switch your flash video players to html5; Stream Exchange did this for our Specialist Media Show site.

3. Decide what content will be valued on mobile

Mobile devices are mostly used for news headlines, blogs, search, lists, offers and vouchers, so work out which sections of your content will be valued by your customers, and focus on these for your mobile version of your site.

4. Should you develop an app and for which platforms?

80% of smartphone users use apps, while only 10% browse the standard web.  Apps can work offline, and can use other phone functions such as GPS, accelerometer, camera plus push messaging.  Many providers offer simple magazine style apps:  Pagesuite, Pixel-Mags, Yudu, Digital Publishing Company and Exact Editions among others.  These may be limited in format but allow publishers to test the uptake at low cost (typically <£3k).   Apple is the dominant platform but Android is closing the gap.

5. How to fund your app?

The ideal solution is to get a sponsor to subsidise the cost; that was Time Out’s approach for their app sponsored by Smirnoff.  Some publishers charge readers a nominal cost: the Spectator charges £1.19 a week for their app.  Factory Media achieved 6% of paid sales via their apps.  Apple are notoriously tough on holding customer data, but you can include competitions and offers to build your own database of users.  The survey of 100+ publishers commissioned for the Specialist Media Show in April 2010 showed that 26% had a mobile app and a further 51% planned to.  24% expected to fund through sponsorship and 34% paid-for by users.

If you are a specialist publisher about to launch a mobile version of your site or an app, please share your experiences below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in to swap ideas and contacts with 400+ other specialist media people.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan advises publishers on their digital strategy through her consulting business Penmaen Media.  She is Content Director for the Specialist Media Show, a conference and exhibition for niche publishers to help them navigate new media platforms.  If you’d like some advice on your mobile publishing strategy, please contact Penmaen Media and we’d be happy to chat.