Publishers Claim Mobile 'Confidence' -- But Don't Get Cocky, Kid

While you may not be able to tell by browsing major media brand URLs with your smart phone, 85% of newspapers, magazines and b2b publishers surveyed by the Audit Bureau of Circulation claim they have mobile content of some kind already deployed. The auditing organization for many of the top periodicals says in its new report that the publishing field is maturing rapidly in its adoption of mobile. That 85% of mobile-aware content providers is up from 76% last year, ABC says. I will chalk it up to the sample size (171), but media’s mobile savvy is not quite as visible as these metrics suggest.

Still, ABC’s membership does represent some of the leading print publishers, so I am willing to play along. The newspaper segment is most mobile-ready, with 88% saying they have content that is aware of smartphone, e-reader or tablet devices.  While not edging quite into hubris yet, the publishers claim confidence, with 59% saying their mobile plans are “well-developed,” up from 28% in the 2009 survey.



Eighty-one percent of U.S. publishers now say that a mobile Web site is an important part of their strategy moving forward. Generally, these publishers are reporting that about 15% of overall digital traffic is now coming from devices. Still 38% surveyed are serving content to users via apps and 25% via mobile Web sites.

The print world is eying tablets more than smartphones, however.  While 60% of those surveyed felt smartphones represented their largest opportunity, 73% cited e-readers and tablets.

Apple remains the apple of publishers’ eyes despite a rocky road to business models and the company’s notoriously closed approach to media. That majority of brands (51%) now have iPhone apps, and 54% say they have an iPad app. Still, less than a majority of publishers (43%) have developed an Android app. When asked which manufacturer will continue to exert the most influence on the market, these media companies still put Apple on top, Google/Android second and Amazon third, but Barnes & Noble is rising. 

When it comes to business models, a combination of consumer-driven and ad revenues have taken hold on the mobile platforms. One reason publishers seem to love tablets is that they associate them with subscription revenue; 45% of those with iPad apps charge users for them. That share of paid content drops to 35% on the iPhone. Magazines are the leading source of paid iPad content, with 73% of magazines charging users, compared to 42% of newspapers.

Still there is widespread frustration even with the revised business and marketing models Apple has put in place. Only 8% found Apple’s approach favorable to publishers, and 42% felt the industry needed an alternative to Apple. The media providers appear to be divided on whether the Apple Newsstand, introduced in iOS 5, will work for them. While 47% expressed optimism over the new dedicated area of the store and home screen, 44% were indifferent.

When it comes to monetizing media, publishers generally regard hybrid models as the future of mobile. But these respondents also seemed to be looking for mobile money to come from multiple channels: banner ads, sponsorships, video, search and store locators.

But it is still unclear whether media will settle on a specific model for selling access to subscribers. While 41% of newspaper publishers felt that charging once for access to all platforms made sense, only 28% of magazine publishers agreed. Newspapers appear to be evenly divided on their models, with 41% saying they wanted to charge extra for each platform a consumer used, while 46% of magazines were ready to charge multiple times for the same content.

Publishers are eager to report that device-based content consumption clearly yields better metrics than Web-based usage. Two-thirds want to make expanded metrics a standard part of their reporting, including data points such as time spent and access rates. Many content providers see exponentially higher rates of frequency (often on cell phones) and overall time spent (often on tablets). Even more (72%) said they positive about using consolidated reporting of circulation that included both print and digital, but 57% felt that print and digital should be audited to different standards.


The survey included 171 major media publishers in magazines, newspapers and b2b publications, predominantly in the U.S. but also 16% from Canada.


Curiously absent from ABC’s survey is the crucial question of how publishers will market and merchandise their mobile wares. Unless the brand really is behind the mobile product and push people to it relentlessly, it is hard to accept the levels of confidence the circ and ad execs who tended to answer this survey voiced.

Back in the day, print publishers used to bemoan the ineffectiveness of leveraging print to drive people to a Web URL. Magazine execs said it took a long time for those dedicated Web TOC pages in their books to register with readers and move those eyeballs across platforms. Interestingly, but anecdotally, I hear something different when it comes to mobile. Publishers have told me they feel their in-print prompts to download an app or go to the mobile URL are working.  If so, this may be due, as usual, to the use case. People have their phones on them when they read and can easily try the mobile version of a favorite publication -- unlike years past when they’d usually be reading a print pub while physically removed from the desktop and Web. A reader would have to remember to visit a branded media URL when he or she got back to the desk.


If readers continue with high levels of mobile engagement, publishers need to figure out the most efficient way to get readers used to accessing their content on mobile before a competitor does. So the year of migrating media to mobile is about over. Next year should be about migrating and securing audiences.    

1 comment about "Publishers Claim Mobile 'Confidence' -- But Don't Get Cocky, Kid".
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  1. Brian Klais from Pure Oxygen Labs, November 8, 2011 at 4:17 p.m.

    85% of publishers may believe their content is mobile-aware, but that does no good if the mobile content is invisible to search and social users who click deep links from Google, Twitter, Facebook, and others!

    From my own analysis, I can only see about 3% of NY Times' pages mobile-aware:

    2% of Chicago Tribune pages mobile-aware:

    1% of the LA Times pages mobile-aware:

    0% of Wall Street Journal (for iPhone and Android):

    (Note: The links go to results pages created using a mobile site crawling and analysis technology developed by my firm.)

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