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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - November 2011

The Real Mobile Shift - For Publishers

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The mobile shift is a verb. It is not a thing or a device. It is an action, a state of mind, and a feeling. That feeling is freedom. Freedom to do whatever you want, whenever and however you want.

Mobile. Everyone is talking about it and all the trends tell the same story. That story is that mobile is the way of the future whether we like it or not. But the mobile trend is not what you think it is. It is not about apps, nor is it about Android or the iPhone.

This guide will help you understand what the real mobile shift is all about. There are two articles. This one is targeted at publishers, and another (coming next week) is targeting brands.

I will not tell you about all the fancy numbers. I will not tell you that more people use Facebook and Twitter via mobiles than desktops, I will not tell you that QR code use has exploded by 1200%, and I will not tell you how many iPhones Apple has sold. That's because all those numbers are meaningless.

Many people believe that the image below is what mobile is all about, the smartphone and the tablet. Publishers believe that "to be mobile" you need to create a mobile site that fits the smaller screen...and, if you are really fancy, your own branded app.

It is true that most of the things we do on a smartphone and a tablet are mobile, but this is not what it is all about.

On the other hand, many people would say that this Dell desktop computer is *not* mobile. It's a desktop computer, how can that be mobile? But some of the things you do on a desktop are actually mobile. You can use a desktop computer to buy things without having to go to a physical store.

And almost everyone will tell you that this, the printed magazine is absolutely *not* mobile. But it is. You can read it anywhere, at anytime.

You see the mobile shift is a verb. It is not a thing or a device. It is an action, a state of mind, and a feeling. That feeling is freedom. Freedom to do whatever you want, whenever and however you want.

It is a combination of freedom of choice, freedom of time and freedom of place.

But more importantly, it is about being able to do all those things, without the need to plan ahead.

One simple example is when you want to buy a train ticket. In the past you had to show up at the train station, during opening hours, to buy your ticket. But then came the desktop computer and suddenly you could buy it from the comfort of your home.

That is the beginning of mobile, because you could buy a train ticket whenever you wanted. It gave you freedom of time. The desktop computer also partly gave you freedom of place and freedom of choice, because you could use any desktop computer, not just the one at your home.

The smartphone, of course, expanded this quite a bit. Because of the smartphone's portability, you could now buy a train ticket from anywhere, even from outside your home. Especially now that we have (fast) 3G internet connection in most places.

Now take the print magazine. You can read it anywhere you want. In your kitchen during breakfast, in your living room, on the bus, at work, at the beach and anywhere else you can possible imagine. It is truly mobile.

There are two things about a print magazine that aren't mobile. The process of buying it (which requires you to go to a physical store), and the act of always having to carry it with you.

Now compare that to the iPad magazine. It too can be read anywhere, just like its print counterpart. It too has to be carried with you, and because most magazines are too heavy to download over 3G, buying one can only be done from your home (as in "one physical location"). Granted, the iPad magazine is much more convenient to use than the printed version, but it isn't really more mobile.

Now compare the magazine to a web app. It too can be read anywhere, but you don't have to bring it with you. And, you can read it on any device. The iPad can only be read on your personal iPad. But you can easily read the web magazine on your friend's iPad. There is no download, and thus no "buying". It's just there, all the time and fully updated.

That's mobile!

This is one of the main reasons why I keep telling publishers that iPad apps are not "the savior". The shift that is all around us is not about the mobile devices themselves, it is about mobile as a verb: the action of being mobile and of having the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever and wherever you want.

Mobile means giving people the power to do what they want to do "now"! No waiting, no consumption modes, no delays. You are free from having to think about "how to do it" and instead it allows you to focus on "what to do".

Let's look at publishing in the real context of being mobile. What does that mean? First we have the four points of activity:

  1. Discovering
  2. Buying
  3. Reading
  4. Engaging


I will get to discovering in a moment, but I will start off with "buying". How do you make buying a magazine, newspaper subscription or ebook a mobile experience?

The first thing to realize is that buying "mobile" is not the act but the impulse that matters. You need to make sure that people can buy your magazine, subscription or whatever, at the very moment the thought pops into their head.

In a static world, when you get the impulse to buy a magazine, you have to remember where to buy it, and go to the physical location of the newsstand to pick it up. It is the same with iPad magazines. If you, while sitting on the subway with your iPhone get the impulse to buy the latest GQ magazine, you can't buy it.

The GQ iPad magazine can only be bought from your iPad. Now you are forced to remember that you wanted to buy it, which most people will have forgotten all about by the time they get home.

Apple is specifically problematic when it comes to the mobile shift and buying. Take the Audible app. It's a great app to have on your phone, and you can buy it and consume it whatever you want, from wherever you want.

But now Apple has forced Audible to remove their store from the app, and put a limit of 10 MB on any 3G downloads. I can get around the buying part by going to their web store, but I cannot download or even stream it while on the go...which makes it useless to buy audiobooks on the road.

Apple thinks of mobile as a thing, and they are forcing you to limit what you can offer through their store. If you want to embrace the real mobile shift, you need to rethink your allegiance to the Apple App Store.

In the branding world it is also very important to think about enticing people to buy. For instance, adding a direct call to action when you post something on Facebook is critical to your success. But in the publishing world that is little different. Nobody buys a subscription to a newspaper without first building a relationship.

To get people to subscribe, you first have get them to come to your site and read your articles, then you have to turn them into loyal readers. But that's not enough to sell a subscription. You also need to build relevance, so that people feel that they cannot do without the content you make. And only then will they subscribe.


This leads us towards making reading a mobile experience. The way you get people to subscribe is to give your readers a great reading experience. Again, mobile is a verb, so it's not about making a mobile website. It's about making sure your content is device agnostic - it should be everywhere.

This, however, is where it gets tricky because people use their devices in very different ways. The first thing you need to realize is that most people are not "mobile" yet. Sure, they have their iPhones and iPads, but they are still not using them to be free. It takes a long time to change many years of traditional usage patterns. They are still thinking about reading as a "mode".

A single example is with books. Most people will buy a Kindle book, thinking of it like a traditional book they can read on one device. But that is about to change, because the future looks like this.

This is the mobile consumption patterns of just one ebook. Instead of going into a "reading mode", we will see books as something that is all around us. We won't think about when to read a book, we will just do it.

This, however, requires a drastic change in the minds of traditional publishing. Today, publishers don't sell the content of a book, they sell the format of a book. When you buy an ebook, you can't download the audiobook. You have to buy that separately even though it is the same book.

But look at the illustration above. In a mobile world, we don't think about the format, we only think about the content. So if you want to create a truly mobile reading experience, you need to separate the content from the format.

Let people buy the content itself and give them access to whatever format they desire, whenever they need it (completely automatically).

Longer articles

Books, however, are a special type of content that we consume. What about longer forms of content, like the articles I write here, or most of the articles you find in magazines?

For one thing, the usage pattern changes dramatically:

At home, we are still in the "relaxing mode" where we sit down with our tablet to really read and enjoy the content. And the best format for that is a dedicated app (or a really well made web app). You need something that gives you the best reading experience possible.

But you don't just read at home, you also read when you are going to work, or when you have 5 minutes to spare during lunch. But in those situations you probably don't have time to read the longer articles, instead you are just browsing around discovering what's new.

We see this trend clearly in the many surveys about news consumption on different devices. The latest one from Comscore shows that people read at home, followed by a higher smartphone use during the day.

What this indicates is that we discover, share, and save content we like during the day, and consume when we can relax in the evenings (or over breakfast).

Note: This graph is wildly misleading because they have not taken into account the volume of use on each platform. Smartphone use is much higher than tablet use, and desktop use is much higher than smartphone use.

But what's interesting, and the source for a promising future for publishers, is how you can now extend the content. In the past, consumption was always a passive activity. You would sit down and read. But with mobile content, you are not limited to just reading.

A simple example. If you are creating a magazine about healthy food, reading about it is a small part of the story. You also need to provide recipes, tips and ideas for people to use.

But people are not discovering the recipes minutes before they want to cook something, they are discovering it during the day, at work or on the bus. Meaning that when people find something they like, they need to remember to buy the ingredients on their way home. You need to make that activity part of your magazine.

Here is a simple example from Jamie Oliver's latest iPad app.

His latest recipe app includes a simple feature of adding the things you need to a shopping list. It is a very simple feature, but with a huge mobile potential. It allows you to discover where you want, and connect that to the active experience of shopping, before you go home to *use* the app as a basis for your evening meal.

Now, Jamie's app isn't actually mobile. It doesn't work. Sure you can add things to your shopping list, but you cannot take it with you. All you can do is to email it to yourself, which isn't really useful (at best, it is just a workaround).

For this to be truly mobile, it needs to be automatically accessible on your smartphone, and it also needs to support all the other thing you need to buy (milk, toilet paper, shampoo, etc.)

The feature itself is not enough. You need to make it work outside the scope of the magazine site or app.

The point is, that there is gigantic opportunity to extend the content. To make it fit both the passive "relaxed" consumption mode, and the active "let's do it" mode.

That is the true power of mobile, and leads back the original point which is that mobile is not about the device, it's about giving people the freedom to do anything, anywhere.

Another big part is how we discover long-form content. In the past, we discovered the articles *after' buying the magazine of whichever cover we liked best. Now, we discover content because of sharing. And mobile discovering is all about sharing.

What that means is that you are *not* going to launch and browse around in 100 different iPhone apps to see if there are 5-10 articles that you'd like to read later. We don't have time for that.

What we do is subscribe to the sources we care about, or, in more cases, other people that we trust and that share our interests. And then, instead of launching 100 different apps, we expect the content to come to us - in our social streams.

When we're on the go, we do this on our smartphones via social apps - like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ - maybe mixed with a number of social aggregation services. When we have a longer "break" we do the same on our tablets, but then opt for social aggregators that can give us richer reading experiences. Like Zite, Feedly, Pulse or Flipboard.

It is only when we really want to relax that people launch individual apps focusing on a single source of content. Discovering content is a mobile experience. It is not something that happens in a publisher's app.

You might be thinking that's not true, because "studies show that ...blah blah ...are seeing increased app usage throughout the day". And while that is true, it is also completely wrong.

Take Wired Magazine. The number of subscribers to the iPad edition is far lower than the number of followers on their social channels. Wired has 1.1 million followers on Twitter. But Wired's iPad app cannot be linked to from any social channel.

What this tells you is that Wired is losing out. Their potential customers have very clearly told them that they want to "discover what's new" via socially aggregated services. But Wired is still trying to force people into a closed app consumption mode that only works on one device, in the evenings.

That is the opposite of mobile. As a publisher of longer articles, you need to mix the social nature of discovering (which is almost entirely a mobile experience) with your "app" world of consuming content. Keeping those two worlds technically separated is a gigantic mistake.

Again, this is where the real trend of mobile enters the field with brute force. Mobile is about freedom, so you can't say that people discover on their iPhones and read on their iPads. Sometimes it is the other way around. Sometimes you discover articles you want to read during breakfast on your iPad, but then decide to read them on your iPhone on the subway, or when waiting for a meeting to start.

Mobile is about not forcing people into a consumption mode.


Let's look at news. In the past, news was something we consumed. When I was a kid, my parents would sit down for half an hour just to read the newspaper. They did this because they had been left without news throughout the day - they needed to catch up.

Today that usage pattern has changed dramatically. Sure the old generation (55+) is still doing it, just as they are still watching evening news on TV. But most people below that age are consuming news throughout the day - in tiny snacks.

This has a rather dramatic affect on the format of news. For one thing, creating a news app with daily issues makes no sense at all. You cannot "snack" on a daily issue.

With news, and shorter articles, the mobile usage shifts to the stream. When you are home, you are catching up either by browsing around, following, or via social sharing. But you expect all the content to appear as a stream that you can snack on.

It is the same when you are at work, or when you are outside. Except that in those situations you also expect the stream to extend to the situation you are in right now. A simple example is that it doesn't make sense to give people a national weather forecast, if you know the reader is right now in Munich, Germany.

The stream itself is not an app - it is a service. It is something that is readily available wherever you are, ready at a moment's notice for when you have 20 seconds to spare. It's what you catch up on when standing in line at the grocery store. It's what you check while you are on hold on the phone. What you check on your laptop when you need a short break. And it is what you do, while watching TV.

News, combined with mobile, is turning into snacking! It is something you do, on whatever device that happens to be closest to you.

It has to be ready for you. It has to bring you the latest updates. It has to be ultra fast to consume (forget 250+ words). It has to be aware of its surroundings and the person using it. And it has to give you the freedom to not think about, plan, or prepare for it.

And of course, it has to be linked to the longer articles that provide a deeper perspective, insight and analysis. But the news itself is a lifestream that you follow, linking to the deeper content if needs be.

Engagement (reacting)

Finally, we need engagement. Engagement is what drives social sharing. And social sharing is what drives discovering - it all fits together. But the social (and mobile) circle starts with how people react to your content.

In a mobile context, engagement is based on the situations your are in. If you are at home, sharing is more "reflective". It's deeper and more profound. When you are outside, sharing is less about the content, and more the act of sharing itself. We don't have time to read longer articles at the bus stop, but we still share a ton of articles while waiting in line. Why? Not because we have read it, but because it sounds interesting and our friends might like it too.

You need to look at engagement as something that happens everywhere. Engagement itself is mobile by default. One example is that I usually receive far more comments about my articles on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ than I do in my magazine.

We connect where people are, and your readers will expect you to do the same. Google+ and Facebook are particularly useful for this.

You need to break down the barriers that the formats create. Give people the freedom to connect and interact without worrying about what consumption mode they should be in.

That is the real mobile shift for publishers. Mobile = freedom to be everywhere, anytime, using any device.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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