A recurring theme came up today during an American Business Media webinar about investing in mobile content: To justify investing in mobile, business publishers have to go beyond repurposing content, instead offering useful tools that add value.
Bruce Rogers, chief brand officer of Forbes
, said publishers can't just put a magazine into a different form factor; they need to offer specific content created for an app. He noted that readers who only want Web content can already receive all of it through the mobile browser. Forbes takes a more "product-driven approach:" On the iPad, for example, the publisher offers an investment guide app
featuring significant stories from archived Forbes Investment Guide issues and daily finance-oriented updates (the app has had 110,000 downloads since last June).
Could the Forbes way of thinking — offering mobile-optimized content in the browser and utilitarian content in apps — work for many other business publishers?
In the consumer market, publishers can make a bigger case for publishing print replica apps for a lean-back experience
on the iPad. Even still, many consumer publishers, like Forbes, are concentrating on more content-driven apps that go beyond the print replica
. For B2B
publishers, which have always had a focus on offering actionable content, it makes even more sense to offer utilitarian apps.
As Mitch Speers
wrote recently, creating a lean-back experience isn't high on the priority list for many niche B2B publishers. Paired with a still small number of iPad users on the market, it doesn't necessarily call for a lot of investment, either.
“If the app is compelling enough to convince significant numbers of your audience to buy an iPad so they can use your app, you've got a winner,” he wrote. “I can guarantee that a B2B magazine-replica iPad app will not generate worthwhile ROI
Look at the audience
As always, deciding where to invest in mobile depends on the audience, the ABM panelists said. "It's easy to get excited about iPads, but what is your constituency doing?"said Brian Randall, vice president of eMedia at Diversified Business Communications
, which publishes titles such as National Fisherman. He advised publishers to analyze where their traffic is coming from directly and via newsletters, and also to consider what competitors are doing. When looking at mobile traffic, Randall spotted red flags, such as a higher bounce rate and lower time spent on site — suggesting the need for more mobile-optimized content.
Business publishers also have to consider the device that professionals in the industry they cover are using, which isn't always the most mainstream (e.g. RIM's BlackBerry). Will Stofega, program director of mobile device technology and trends at research firm IDC
doesn't foresee RIM going away anytime soon, so it's still relevant for publishers to consider. Because the BlackBerry doesn't offer as great of a browsing experiences as other smartphones, it might justify an app. Forbes offers a BlackBerry mobile reader
, which is the publisher's only app for pure Web content.
Devices suited for useful content
As the number of devices and their penetration in the market grows, an even greater emphasis could be put on providing useful content, said Stofega. Devices will offer more integrated capabilities connected to more outside functions, such as navigation. Smart publishers will think more about integrating information into those capabilities. "Think about mobility and think about what's useful for people,” Stofega advised.
And what's useful for users is what's profitable for business publishers. Right now Forbes' investment app is free but Rogers said they are able to monetize on mobile with “tremendous interest from advertisers.”
Jones foresees a mix of paywalls and subscriptions to monetize in the future and believes people will pay for something specific, such as a tool that helps them do their job better. He also said that new, aggregated ways of consuming content, like Flipboard
, will be “the model of the future.”
Forbes serves a much different market than niche publishers, but the logic applies to smaller media companies as well. At a previous ABM event, Jill Windwer, vice president of digital Products and Law.com at ALM
, publisher of The American Lawyer, discussed the publisher's dual approach to an app strategy
. In addition to publishing a digital replica app, the company plans to roll out functional apps in a few regions this year, such as a courthouse guide in Texas and an attorney-finder in Pennsylvania.
At another ABM event
, James Wonder, director of emerging technology at AIP (American Institute of Physics) Publishing
discussed their mobile goals to provide an audience of scientists and researchers with nuggets of information quickly from a dense collection of scholarly information. “It looks nothing like the online journal; it's a mobile journal,” he said.
Soon the capabilities business publishers could offer could be much more complex, packaging information and data in new ways that integrate with workflow or other undiscovered functions.
After listening to a few ABM panels about mobile development at business media companies, the tone is obviously different than conferences where Condé Nast and NPR tout sleekly designed tablet editions to curl up next to. For consumer publications, over-the-top experimentation gives them newsstand hype, but business publishers are sitting back and honing a strategy. Tiptoeing is better than plunging into mobile, but freezing up is the worst approach.
"You will have to develop a [mobile] content distribution strategy,” Rogers said. “You can't ignore the size of that market.”