#NewsOnTheMove – How Publishers View the Big Mobile Challenge

#NewsontheMove was hosted by the Press Gazette at Google HQ yesterday. Benedict Evans from Enders Analysis opened the event with an overview of the mobile market, a presentation he called The Mobile Explosion.

He highlighted that sales of tablets passed sales of desktop computers at the end of last year, adding: “The global install base of smartphones [currently over 1bn] will overtake the 1.6 to 1.7bn PCs at some time in the next two years.” While PCs are kept for three to fours years and are often limited to one per household, mobile devices are kept for between two and three years and are owned by individuals. “Tablets need to be seen on a device per person basis rather than devices per-household; 25m households doesnt mean a top-out at 25m.”

Chinese threat to Apple and Google

Although the smart device world is currently an Apple and Samsung duopoly, Evans warned that cheap Chinese manufacturers will pose a threat to them two or three three years down the line. “There will be a cheap generation of Android tablets from China which are pretty good even at £100 to £150. Theyre black, a bit squeaky and not terribly elegant but theyre cheap. I suspect around 100 to 150 to 250m will be sold in the next two years.”

Highlighting Apples dominance of the tablet market, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Evans said that there are: “only about three people at Amazon who know how many Kindle Fires have been sold. Apple sold 65m iPads last year. Id be surprised if Apple didnt beat that this year. I believe around 250 to 300m tablets will be sold this year and 300m plus next year. The tablet market will top out between 500m and1bn devices.”

Vicious circle

Asked what he thinks the future is for Windows Phone, he said that smaller ecosystems create a “vicious circle” where developers dont see an opportunity to make money so they dont develop for it. So how are publishers addressing the tablet challenge?

Anthony Sullivan, group product manager at the Guardian, said they while his paper has seen smartphone page views increase by 400 per cent, tablet page views have jumped by 800 per cent. And the pace of change is only increasing. “Last Christmas we saw a much bigger jump than the year before.” Around 90 per cent of their traffic is iPad. 93 per cent of tablet traffic comes over wi-fi. “For the future, we dont see it as one size fits all. It will make sense to that individual in that context at that time of day.”

Ads or ad-free?

The Guardian has an £11 per month tablet subscription with 22,000 users – a profitable product for them. “We can monetise that audience in a much smarter way than before using data.” He suggested that it makes sense to offer freemium options, the papers largest app product is the free Android app, but they want to start joining up audiences cross-platform, by getting people to log-in, for example.

“We want our content to be free and accessible, but if we do ask for payment, we have to offer a premium experience. What are the things that the audience would pay for? Ease of use cross-platform, maybe some people dont want to see ads? But having the core journalism available to as many people as possible is a priority.”

Lee Wilkinson, product director at Hearst Magazines, added: “You have to understand what the consumer wants when they want it. For daily titles, youve got to get the content to them quickly – to make it as easy as picking up a magazine. The biggest button is the exit button.”

Paid for digital mag – a quaint notion?

Alex Watson, director of products, tablets and apps at Dennis Publishing, said that the mobililsation process had been stressful for an organisation with more than 50 titles. “There is a massive plurality of options. Looking at The Week, we knew that our average reader is 48 and is actively turned off by Google News and the river of news effect. It looks quite like the magazine and while quite a lot of people are sceptical about digital editions, we publish a digital edition every week that people pay for – some people think that paying for a magazine is a quaint notion.” Watson also highlighted that digital-first publishers like the Huffington Post are “just willing to go that much further. The Huffington Post gets 10 times more comments than the New York Times.” This is not unlike the situation with online retailers compared to bricks and mortar brands.

No good mobile ads
Asked about what this experimental phase means for advertisers, Chris Ellis, MD for digital at Trinity Mirror, said that he doesnt think anyone is doing a fantastic job of monetising mobile inventory yet. “Ad spend is growing but it needs to catch up with usage. We need to see more native ad formats for mobile phones. Im quite interested in sponsored tweets with links in the stream of content. When you start deep-linking the ability to buy things in an intelligent way into the product – that makes it interesting in terms of direct response as well as brand advertising. We test and learn pretty quickly and do more of what works. ”


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