As the smart phone and advanced 3G services went mainstream in 2009, content publishers and brand marketers were licking their chops over the possibilities of mobile as a way to engage users, increase traffic, and generate new revenues.
In March, minonline called the launch of Apple’s iPhone 3.0 a tipping point for publishers looking to take advantage of the online channel:
“The critical part of the announcement for publishers is the ability to leverage the purchase model of the App Store within individual apps. In-App purchases now allow developers to offer subscription content and provide the ability to sell new content and features in a simple and secure process. Before this announcement, publishers could not easily monetize their mobile content via a paid model.”
In September, eMarketer predicted that mobile advertising spend would reach $416 million this year, rising to $593 million in 2010. Google’s $750 million purchase of AdMob in November was seen as an additional boost for mobile advertising.
“Mobile advertising is a nascent market, but Google is placing a pretty hefty bet on its continued success,” PC World wrote about the deal. “AdMob has built a solid reputation among the emerging mobile ad competitors, serving ads to both the iPhone and Android platforms. The purchase keeps Google a step ahead of the competition and provides it with an opportunity to help define the market as it has defined the online search advertising industry.”
Despite the promise, publishers are still treading relatively lightly in the mobile space. A September survey by the Audit Bureau of Circulations gave some indications of their approach. According to a FierceMarkets article on the survey, nearly 70 percent of respondents said mobile is receiving more attention at their publication this year than last, and more than one- third said their publication has a well-developed plan for the mobile market. Among respondents who track mobile's impact on their Web site traffic, 44 percent said mobile devices increased visits by up to 10 percent.
Beyond driving traffic, mobile presents an opportunity for paid content. Among senior executive respondents to the ABC survey, 17 percent said their publication is developing a smartphone application and another 56 percent said their company plans to develop one in the next 24 months.
As publishers kicked the tires on smart phone apps in 2009, they were also eyeing the e-reader market with similar promise. Forrester predicts that e-reader sales in the U.S. will reach 3 million this year, possible reaching 10 million total units by the end of 2010.
Led by the Amazon Kindle, the market evolved significantly throughout the year as Sony, Barnes & Noble and others introduced new devices. Larger publishers were mulling whether to develop their own devices. In February, Hearst disclosed plans to launch a wireless e-reader.
By year’s end, there was a heightened level of buzz around digital publications on e-readers. The rumors around Apple’s unannounced tablet and the possible role of publishers in selling content for the device further excited media watchers hoping e-readers can help publishers redefine their businesses around paid content, available anywhere and everywhere.