The Mobile Publisher’s Dilemma

In his AVC blog post that recently went viral, Fred Wilson pointed out that there is a significant shift going on this year, much more than significant than last year, from web to mobile. “It is more noticeable in games, social networking, music and news but it is happening across the board and it presents both great opportunity and great challenges. 

Mobile will soon be a major distribution channel for many organizations’ content - not a secondary channel. NPR finds that for traffic to its website, NPR.org, mobile represents 17% of the unique visitors to NPR.org. (That’s mobile site traffic, not including all the NPR apps.) And it’s rising quickly.

In the last few years, apps revolutionized mobile consumption because, generally speaking, it was (and in many cases still is) easier to discover and navigate content through apps than through mobile websites - optimization can be limited during website design. An app can target the specific limitations of a mobile device better than a website so content generally displays better and is less clunky and buggy.

But the benefits of offering an app (especially for capturing new audiences) are starting to level off, because apps appear to work best for only one segment of an audience.

A Pew study of tablet users described “power news users” as those who spend twice as much time consuming news on apps as they do through browsers. Close to half of this group (43%) say they now spend more time getting news than they did before they had their tablet.

So apps are the preferred channel for power news users who want a daily fix. But what about reaching a wider audience of casual users? For the large segment of casual users, mobile-optimized web pages are the preferred way to access content.

Steve Mulder and Keith Hopper write in ‘Why Mobile Web Matters,’ “if an app is the only component of a media organization’s mobile strategy, it’s missing the boat. Mobile optimized web pages are rapidly becoming the most important way many media organizations are growing their online audience.”

Michael Silberman, general manager of digital media at New York Magazine, explains its 2012 priority is to improve the mobile Web experience. “We already see a significant volume of traffic from mobile devices — about 20 percent of visits for our sites overall, and even higher for certain content like restaurant listings. So serving those users well, with responsive templates for smartphone and tablet, is one of our key goals for the year.”

Almost all publishers view mobile as one of the most important opportunities for the growth of their businesses. Publishers must understand the needs of their audience, including where their traffic is coming from, and deliver a mobile experience that best suits their customers.