Miniaturize & Simplify, Solutions to Publishers' Mobile Problem
Since the beginning of mobile's rise, the challenge for publishers has been threefold: who among your audience is using their mobile device, where are they using it, and what are they looking for?
The twin concepts of "create once, publish everywhere" and "provide your content to the consumer where, when, and how they want it" have foundered on a different set of realities. "People just aren't using apps at the rate that publishers are providing them," explained Paul Belliveau, vice president of new media at Yankee Publishing. "They keep a maximum of 40 apps on their devices, download them, play with them once or twice, and then delete them or let them sit. They are using only about eight of those apps on a regular basis. But that doesn't change the fact that we have to be there for them."
As many publishers have found, providing a magazine experience on a mobile app and getting people to engage with it regularly can involve some heavy lifting. So publishers are turning to other functionalities in hopes of discovering the keys to monetizing mobile content.
One approach is to miniaturize the magazine. Publisher content is chopped up into bite-sized bits and provided in the form that Mequoda describes as "minimum information units" (or MIUs). That's the approach that Guitar World adopted early this year when they made their lesson DVD content available in an app comprising about 200 lessons, about 5 to 15 minutes in length. Users can try a lesson for free before committing to a purchase, and push notifications will alert the user when new lessons are released.
Building apps and mobile sites around minimum bits of content makes sense from a usability standpoint. The difficulty for many publishers has been that the cost of development is not offset by the velocity of traffic or the upswell in audience. One approach to solving that problem may be for publishers to participate in partnerships through third-party vendors in a content syndication model.
Another approach is to build sites along the principals of responsive design -- an approach virtually everyone building or upgrading today is adopting. This approach allows a site screen to resize to fit the format of various mobile devices. It's important to build fluid sites to address issues of clarity and readability as well as improve search results. A site whose design isn't responsive is likely to be penalized by search engines, which will reduce the site's discoverability, even in a desktop search.
At the same time, responsive design doesn't address the problems of mobile use. No amount of site responsiveness is going to fully address the differences in use, usability, and monetization that arise cross-platform. And while it may be tempting to put all one's mobile resources into the mobile web, according to Nielsen, 89% of readers use mobile apps, rather than the mobile web.
For small and medium sized publishers, one solution is to simplify.
Peter Ericson, founder of publishing platform ZEEN101, believes that publishing with a good mobile template can be part of the solution. "Yes, there can be obstacles to building mobile subscriber bases, but by streamlining and simplifying it can be easier to get there. A good template will save time, money, and just plain hassle. With those savings, more resources can go into building and maintaining a subscriber base. For example, one of our clients, DKonPittsburgSports, has a one-on-one ratio, 10,000 print and 10,000 digital."
WordPress offers templates that publishers can use to save programming resources, Peter explained, and his company, ZEEN101, has customized those templates for magazine publishers. "We've created plugins, for example, that enable publishers to add paywalls, including metered paywalls. We have a plugin that enables them to integrate their apps with blog posts. It makes it easy and inexpensive to create a frequency magazine on an app, without having to re-invent the wheel each and every issue."
I mentioned that I've recently been speaking to publishers who were early in the field and are getting discouraged enough to give up and focus their resources elsewhere.
"That would be a shame," Ericson said. "With the audiences moving to mobile in increasing numbers, it's death for publishers not to be there as well. Admittedly, without a good template the costs can be exorbitant for small and mid-sized publishers. But it's essential that publishers try new things, find out what's out there, and get onto the existing platforms. Even if publishers only use a template on an interim basis, it's a way of getting to a place they want to be."
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.