Mobile publishing in specialist markets: a practical guide

Mobile devices are  growing explosively, so even niche publishers have to look at the opportunity for mobile publishing.  Where, though, do you start?  I’ve developed a practical approach, based on case studies presented at the Mobile Media Strategies conference on June 14.

Why can’t publishers ignore mobile?  Because the numbers are growing so fast.  According to Screeen Digest, in the UK there are already 12m users of iOS, including ipod touch, iphone and ipad; within 3 years this will reach 18m.  Across Europe the Apple App store dominates with 82.5% of total revenues of 1.6bn euros.  Android is growing its share of smartphones, although the tablet market is still 97% Apple.  And everyone is using mobile more and more for business email, social media, research, shopping –  and pure entertainment.

So here’s a practical approach for niche publishers to  develop a mobile publishing strategy:

1. Optimise web-site for mobile

Before going anywhere near apps, check your main website renders well on mobile, and users can login to subscriber areas, comment and have a seamless experience.  The ideal is to  auto-detect whether user is on a phone or an ipad and adjust the site appropriately.  For some markets this is all you need; there is no appetite for a bespoke app.  Once mobile site is live, review your stats on devices and usage for clues on where to focus your efforts.  The mobile site can be seen more as a marketing channel, to capture data and eventually upsell users to paid-for apps.

2. Experiment with simple, free apps

Understand your potential audience  by testing a simple, ideally free, app and analyse how they use it.  The Telegraph used their first app for research, gathering a database, compiling usage stats and feedback, then using that insight to develop a full app.

3. Build in appropriate functionality

If budget allows, go beyond a print replica, and build in relevant features that help the user get more out of their interest or working day.  The Good Food app has a shopping list, and also a large text option when in cooking mode.  Telegraph has a crossword.

4. Plan the production process for editorial team

Production can be more costly than initial development.  Good Food drive their app from Indesign pages created by ed team; Bonnier have built their own bespoke platform magplus.  Involve the design team from the start of the process

5. Synch print and subs pricing

Unlike a  continuous, infinite website, magazine apps have an appealing “finishability” .  Increasingly publishers offer a single subscription to  access print, app and web.  Whilst this may feel  like giving the app away for free, it’s  a powerful retention tactic.  Any subscriber content on the web needs to match the paid-for app.  The Economist has a metered approach for both app and website: users see a number of articles for free before hitting a subs page.

6. Market widely

Publishersmust use all their in-house resources (print, email database, web) to market a new app.  In niche markets, the app store works well.  Another channel for consumer markets is GetJar, which has a PPC model so can be tested.  Email is a main driver to mobile sites for B2B.  Social media is the main traffic driver on mobile, so ensure all your content is shareable and you are integrated with facebook and twitter.

7. Cultivate a good relationship with Apple

Apple still dominates the mobile publishing market.  But instead of seeing Apple as the enemy, publishers should work with them.  Their 30% commission is no worse than the retail channel, and their data stance is softening.  Many publishers get 40-50% of users opting to provide their details, and Apple now allows incentives for data sharing; eg Telegraph offers 7 days free usage in return for data.

8. But don’t forget the non-Apple world

There are still large audiences on Android, Blackberry and Kindle. Many b2b markets are dominated by Blackberry.  Android’s share of the smartphone market will surpass Apple.  And Kindle is proving a good revenue earner for book publishers and more text-based magazine publishers (eg Spectator).  There are low-cost services such as Impulse pay which allow micropayments for niche content across all phones.

What are your experiences of mobile publishing in specialist markets?  What are your main issues?  Please comment below, or join the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in and swap ideas with over 600 other specialist media professionals.

Related articles:

Ten Guidelines for magazine mobile apps

Publishers poised to adopt mobile

New research on what publishers can charge

About the author:  Carolyn Morgan  is MD of the Specialist Media Show, and programmes the conference on new business models in niche publishing markets.  If you’re interested in speaking at future conferences or nominating your business for the Media Pioneer Awards, please get in touch.

Carolyn also works with individual publishers on their digital media and publishing strategy through consultancy Penmaen Media, drawing on her experiences from the show and wide network of contacts.  Read comments from past clients.  For an initial, no-obligation conversation, please contact us directly.

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