Where the potential is for mobile publishing
Vice chairman of
Bureau (IAB) Europe
Although past the time when they were considered an oxymoron, mobile revenues still resemble a contradiction in terms. With reason too: news is a tiny fragment of the (paid) content segment, in itself only a subset of the total mobile market. Moreover, any revenues are split with service and technology providers, often on unfavourable terms.
However, mobile publishing is hardly a pointless pursuit – and not so much because of the medium's penetration or its assumed income potential. Essentially, its underlying importance is that it augments a fundamental shift initiated by the web: It forces news providers to focus consistently on their users. For if there's money to be made in mobile, it will come predominantly from the user.
Not that advertising has no place in mobile. Nonetheless, device limitations and lack of standards mean that commercial communications are not – for a while – likely to replicate the ad placement model of print media or the web. Indeed, major advertisers are already taking initiatives in mobile – and news providers would do well to emulate them as they have grasped its basic rules. These represent a framework to evaluate services, i.e. (a) the ‘opt-in' relationship in which the user chooses specific services, (b) the vertical, almost niche nature of offerings, (c) the brevity of the experience, and (d) the response dynamics – and economics.
There aren't many news services which would fit the above (in broadband environments, demand is entertainment dominated) or which would prove a noteworthy improvement on the “older" interactive medium, the web. Still, assuming due opt-in process is in place, current opportunities are centred on targeted alerts and instant response. Device size makes alerts the format par excellence: they are personal, timely and brief – sports, business as well as, to an extent, weather, listings and local news are obvious domains of interest.
However, the killer app is probably classifieds, the only advertising category that justifies the U.S. Press's reference to ads as “content": A soft drinks manufacturer alleging that his product somehow makes you sexier is not news; a job opening that fits your CV is. The other immediate opportunity – response – can be “collaborative" (polls) or “competitive" (contests): the former is a versatile feedback channel, the latter a (largely self-financed, as users fund this through their paid replies) way of adding value to both editorial and advertising.
And herein lies a hidden key question, which concerns technology but has wide marketing ramifications: Should news providers invest in their own delivery technology (e.g. an SMS gateway) or should they focus exclusively on content, their core business?
Owning technology offers great possibilities with regards to CRM as it allows direct contact with the end user. It also provides a crucial “intermediating" role for the newspaper in the advertising equation in that it enhances its service capabilities (e.g. a contest) and, critically, inserts the content owner in tomorrow's m-commerce value chain.
However, as the web experience shows, any significant investment in a nascent, largely untested market can represent more risk than is necessary. Not that all investments are alike: owning a gateway is more consistent with news providers' mission and skills than the (misguided) proposition of becoming a virtual service provider.
Ultimately, such investment decisions will depend on scale, both of the potential market and the number of services – which shall determine the volume of messages that will be exchanged with users. It is up to news providers to go to the market for the answer.
Page first published: 13.10.2005