Mobile Web? Apps? Bundled content? Unbundled? Ask the 15-year-olds


If you want to know what the future of digital publishing is, a fair starting point would be to look at the online and mobile habits of today’s 15-year-olds.

This constantly connected population is no longer dual-screening, but triple-screening. And their primary screen of choice is mobile.

They are more connected to the Internet than ever, more willing to participate in social and sharing activities and more able to consume rich content at any time and on any device. To them, the role of a TV scheduler — someone who decides when you are allowed to watch a particular piece of content — is completely anachronistic.

The times they are a-changing. So while the future for TV schedulers might be bleak, the future for mobile content is practically sparkling.

Ten years ago, digital readers looking for content had limited options of where to find it; in fact, they really only had one choice: the desktop Web. They found their way to a Web page filled with content that linked to other Web pages filled with content.

With the experience so singular, publishers focused on building audience share with the hope that one day, the money might follow.

A couple of decades after the desktop model emerged, mobile publishing exploded. If mobile publishing were a person, it would be 7 years old and caught between the discovery ages of kindergarten and middle school: growing in confidence, but in constant need of minding.

However, even at just 7 years old, mobile is already nearing the day when it has a larger audience than desktop and routinely captures 35% to 45% of general news visits in Australia, more for breaking news.

For example, records were almost broken at the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s oldest metro news business, when news of the ill-fated Flight MH370 broke online March 8.

With 41% of the total digital audience reading about the missing aircraft on a mobile phone and 42% reading about it on a desktop PC, the Sydney Morning Herald is closer than ever to the mobile tipping point.

For publishers all over the world witnessing this mobile migration firsthand, it’s becoming clear that mobile publishing is altogether a completely new proposition with a lot more complexity to execute than desktop.

The growing number of different user experiences as we consume mobile content will force a staggering amount of product choices onto publishers. The mobile Web is just one way to consume content. Apps are another. If you’re asking which one is best for publishing your content, then you are asking the wrong question.

Publishers need to fish where the audiences are and get past the either-or debate. In most cases, the larger content audience will be Web, but equally if not more valuable audiences can be found elsewhere.

Voice, wearables, predictive, the connected car, Web, apps, messaging, and geo are just some of the emerging avenues for content discovery.

Just because we are busy driving our cars doesnt mean we can’t consume content. So while it’s not clear exactly how this will play out, expect that content available in cars will rival wearable devices like Google Glass when it comes to the next big platform for mobile content discovery.

Uncertainty for publishers deepens when you consider two contradictory content trends that have emerged: bundling and unbundling.

On one side, general news apps have proven very popular with users. But they are content silos, which provide a bundled experience: customer acquisition, search, and social become very hard to do. On the other side, NYT Now, Circa, and Facebook are unbundling the mobile experience.

For publishers looking to build a mobile strategy, it’s just not clear where we currently are in the content aggregation vs. unbundling cycle or if one trend will become dominant.

How will publishers monetise mobile? Tablets mirror a form that advertisers are already very comfortable with (i.e. newspapers, magazines, books, etc.). But mobile is different, and a lot of current mobile ad shapes are transitionary products at best.

In the move to mobile, we still have a lot of work to do in figuring out what are the best formats to capture user attention and tell engaging brand stories.

If all this uncertainty wasn’t hard enough for mobile publishers, they now have to consider a new dimension: the reader’s context. Different reading behaviours are emerging based on the reader’s location, time of day, and the amount of time they have to give.

So in the future, when the publisher is creating a story, will he need to provide a summarised version for morning reading and then a more detailed view of the same story for later in the day? What about a more entertaining version of the same story for the evening and then a more interactive version for weekend reading?

Publishers walk a fine line with needing to adopt a device-agnostic strategy but staying aware that device fragmentation will reveal idiosyncrasies in content consumption based on context.

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