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Making Choices in The Mobile App Economy

Wednesday, October 5, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sheri Toomb
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Making Choices in The Mobile App Economy

by Bob Carlton, Principal at LMK Consulting

Mobile is putting pressure on publishers to quickly adapt and successfully deliver. In a "sink or swim” environment, the hype of apps has begun to challenge publishers in ways they never imagined. Mobile comes in the face of already thin technology development resources. Mobile means supporting multiple proprietary apps that are almost impossible to track or keep updated. Ultimately, mobile can mean serving someone else’s strategy more than your own.

A native app is a great way for developers to create functionality that’s not possible with a web page (or that might otherwise require the use of Flash in a web page). Games are a perfect example of this. For a publisher whose product is words and pictures, it is unclear what additional functionality an app can provide that a well-designed Web page cannot.

As publishers begin to develop enhanced or extended content, these assumptions must change. Increasingly, new content models include that interactivity, video and offline reading. The gap on these is closing with HTML5 and with the promise of ePub 3.

When deciding to publish content in an app rather than a mobile website, publishers need to understand that the value of links. For mobile apps, links as we know them on the Web, are greatly diminished. An app is a standalone program, not a part of the open Web; as a result linking to other pages is clunky at best. You cannot link to content on other apps. And links to websites, while possible, require switching the user to another application (AKA a mobile browser) and disrupting the user experience between articles.

Perhaps most important consideration for publishers is the ownership of the platform on which you publish. No one owns the Web, and therefore no company can impose new rules, pricing, censorship or other surprises along the way. When developing a mobile app, a publisher technically becomes a node within someone else’s platform — namely Apple or Google — and is bound by their rules and whims. Apple’s decision to impose a 30 percent tax on all publisher subscriptions done within apps is just one example of this.

The Financial Times created a lot of buzz with their decision to fully withdraw from the App Store and go all-in with their mobile Web app, formatted in HTML5. Developing an app for someone else’s platform might give the illusion of a new marketing channel, but in reality it means becoming a node in someone else’s business model.

All that said, a mobile app can be a decent marketing channel, and there is value for publishers in having a presence inside the various app stores. But if you peel away all the other layers of what an app can be and focus on it exclusively as a marketing channel, then the conclusion is that an app for publishers is basically a bookmark on people’s phone screens. That’s it — a reminder to consume the publisher’s content, and a quick link to do so.

Publishers may want to stick to these principles after the "we need to have an iPhone/iPad/Android/WebOS/Win7/etc. app” hype passes:

  1. Use limited development resources to build a single, great mobile Web version of their website.
  2. Submit a bookmark version to all the app stores of an app that launches the Web browser with their mobile Web site.
  3. Use services specific to mobile, which provide readers a superior browsing experience, tailored for the mobile Web.
  4. Alter monetization strategies for the mobile environment, opting for revenue generators that are perfected for mobile consumption.

Bob Carlton loves readers, writers & the digital world that is emerging around us. He is the Principal Consultant at LMK Consulting,focusing on digital content, online marketing & social media strategies for media businesses and non-profits. With more than 25 years of experience, Carlton has excelled in transforming organizations, driving successful client engagements, and managing product management & business development with companies ranging from early stage start-ups to large education companies.

Twitter: @bobcarlton

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