Mobile Gold Rush
Sorry to be so crabby. But I have a bone to pick with the mobile-tablet industry and the media industry that is being sucked in by hype. Many mobile services companies will get rich selling the picks and shovels for this gold rush. But few media companies are going to profit like they could because so few have a serious digital foundation to build on.
Let me be clear. Forecasters say Apple may sell 45 million iPads this year, and total tablet sales may reach 70 million in 2011. It does represent an opportunity for the content industry, but competition for attention will be just as fierce on tablets as it is today on the web. Most media companies have not done the necessary dirty work with Internet publishing to succeed on the web. Why do they think it will be better or easier on a new platform that is made up of at least 4 incompatible operating systems?
Most analog media companies, video or print, have had a tough time adapting to the infinite competition online. By infinite competition I mean a situation where all the trillions of pages on the internet are one click away for users who have bookmarked a site, and two clicks away if they have to look it up through a search engine. This environment has meant that two strategies are critical; search engine optimization and email publishing. Most magazines and newspapers have a staffer who is at best a dilettante on SEO. And most of these text-oriented publishers have no more than a desultory email publishing strategy. But these two skill sets are core competencies for publishing successfully.
Media companies that have invested properly in the Internet platform have done well, and will take their experience and their audience to mobile as a foundation to do well there too. ESPN, Forbes, the New York Times and New York magazine are examples in the consumer sector of companies that have learned to compete online like natives. IDG's properties like PC World, and Canon Communications are two b2b companies that have executed well online. These print companies already generate 25% to 50% (and higher in the b2b sector) of their revenues digitally. The three consumer print brands I mentioned have online audiences as much as 20 times their circulation. That puts them in a very strong position to market a mobile app to their digital users. Call it a foundation for tablet publishing.
Successful online publishers have the high reach in unique users, and high so-called engagement of user frequency and depth, that gives them a significant revenue opportunity. This audience success that delivers advertising revenue is built on competing like a native internet company with sophisticated search engine optimization and a Chinese menu of email offerings that build frequency and remind readers to come back. Similar issues of marketing strategy using "native" strategies will have to be understood and implemented for mobile success. And will be much less costly to build on a solid foundation of high use of the basic internet site.
Ask yourself why Google built the Android operating platform for mobile. They did so because they believe that people will use a search engine on their one-handed or two-handed mobile device. Mobile search will still be the key way people navigate on mobile devices, and Google wants to dominate that. Yes, some users will download and subscribe to mobile apps. But competing for attention to win those downloads will be difficult in the already overcrowded Apple App Store and in other app stores as well.
Email is the media that gets no respect. But it is the key competitive weapon. Here is why.
When a reader has to give his or her email address to a publisher with permission to send content, it is a great sign of engagement -- far greater than some social "liking." By doing a good job of inviting readers to sign up for emailed content, the publisher is putting itself in a position to publish to its audience online rather than wait for the reader to come back. This is the rough equivalent of adding a subscription business to a single-copy-only publishing operation. In short, it is a big deal. More important from a tablet publishing perspective, many people are now reading their email on their iPads. That means that a publisher can promote their app or app-subscription through email and have the user immediately link to the app download opportunity. Without the foundation to promote mobile content underpinning publishers' businesses, they will have a very tough time reaching success with the new mobile platforms.