A Mobile-First Approach to Publishing — is The Juice Worth The Squeeze?

Many publishers use the expression "mobile-first," despite the fact that there is no clear and unified definition for the phrase. The use of this catchword can mean almost anything: owning a mobile app; incorporating a responsive layout and optimized pictures; using fewer elements on a single screen scroll and short-frame content; social integration, etc. Each individual who utilizes the term for their own advantage brings their own meaning into the fold.

To stay on top, many leading media houses contribute to this approach, still without a complete understanding of what should be done and what’s most important. We live in an up-rhythm world and sometimes we need to take a step forward quickly before our competitors beat us to it. As readers demand more sophisticated and well-packed content, every publisher strives to find more efficient ways to address the needs of their audience in order to develop nationwide or even global success.

Here are a few recent examples of media companies who have shifted their focus to mobile-first:

•  The Guardian has released a daily updated mobile app to those who subscribe;
•  JPIMedia, one of the largest UK-based multimedia companies, has launched a new app in i-newspaper format;
•  The Information, a tech news website, is launching a mobile news app called Ticker;
•  The Atlantic, a multi-platform publisher, is introducing a digital magazine in the form of a mobile app;
•  Netflix, not yet a publisher, but still a big modern media platform, has launched a mobile-only solution.

This is the reality for most modern media, not just for the top cases described above. No one wants to make the same mistakes as those platforms, who underestimated the power of the Internet around 10-15 years ago. This does not necessarily mean publicists need to stop investing in other formats, such as classical websites and printed publications, but rather that they will devote most of their resources and efforts to mobile devices. And, not surprisingly, according to Statista, around 68% of global Internet users visit a news website/app/service each month.

Share of global internet users who visited a news website/app/service during the recent month, Q1 2019.
Source: statista.com

Let’s Get To The Numbers: How will going mobile-first affect the USA?

Over the past 6 years, the number of Americans who consume news on their mobile devices has doubled. Still, the share of Americans who prefer to read news on their desktop has remained almost the same over time. Therefore, when it comes to occasional usage of digital devices for news, the mobile channel is the one and only king on the media throne.

Mobile news readership in the United States related to the age of users.
Source: pewresearch.org

Both younger and older Americans are actively using mobile devices to consume news information, however, the sharpest growth is seen in the 65+ age category, mostly because most youth have grown up using mobile channels or switched quite a while ago. All signs are that Americans are more likely to get news from their mobile devices rather than desktop computers.

Why is the mobile-only approach so good for publishers?

The mobile channel is cost-effective, powerful and plays in tune with the most modern trends. Here are 6 main reasons a publisher should consider being more mobile-oriented.

1. The huge demand for video content has never been higher than today. Everyone is glued to their smartphones or tablets, and mobile devices are the best tools to deliver all types of video content to an audience.

2.  Today’s trending content is not only about the video, but multimedia as well. A smartphone is a universal tool to consume all types of mixed media content - text articles, slides, whitepapers, audio podcasts, etc.

3.  Growth of social media channels. Your audience is already there and you need to get there too. What’s the best way to do it? Again, mobile devices! A smartphone is also a great device for a publicist to get all his materials quickly posted online.

4.  The era of live streaming. With Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, video streaming technology are at the top. Everyone can go live for a Facebook stream in seconds, with just a tap on a smartphone. Even major broadcasters are using smartphones for their live feeds in many cases.

5.  Audiences are mostly mobile. It’s often easier to create content on the same platform as it’s being consumed.

6.  The speed of how mobile technology is improving is incredible. The entire world is expecting 5G technology to be rolling out in a few years. The internet will become even faster for those who use smartphones and data.

There’s always a flipside. What are the cons of going mobile-first?

While it's true that the growth of the mobile channel is huge and overwhelming, a “mobile-first and only” approach is not really a universal pattern, especially for a publisher. Here are the 3 reasons why:

1.  What matters in the modern world is screens and not devices. As businesses grow, they realize that there are still many other channels to engage other than mobile or desktop. For instance, 36% of Smart TV users are reading the news on their Smart TV.

2.  There are problems with scaling mobile-only businesses. By switching your business into the mobile-once-and-for-all concept, you may get limited within a niche and have problems scaling your business.

3.  Readers get distracted easily. People usually use their phones on the go while commuting to work or while taking a breather from their day. They are extremely distracted and may not actually read the news fully, opting to briefly check the facts instead. It’s also worth pointing out that different ads and sponsored stories look bigger on a mobile screen than in a desktop browser, and this adds some extra points to the overall distraction of a user. That’s why it’s sometimes crucial to implement native advertising strategies in order to monetize news publishing sites.

4.  Short-term success. Media platforms that declare themselves as “mobile-only” usually benefit in the short term but could face losses in the long run. Speaking only with an audience via a single device creates an incomplete picture and limits the ability of the platform to deliver high-quality content to the right people at the right time.

Looking at a publishing business from many different perspectives is not an easy job. Changing vectors of growth and making decisions about investments in new technologies is always difficult, especially for large media organizations. Not only with smartphones and apps getting better by the month, but you also can’t ignore mobile journalism in its core to the future of publishing. If you’re in the news publication business, it’s time to treat a mobile phone as a powerful professional tool - because it is! And, when it comes to monetization of your mobile platforms, the most sophisticated way would be through AdStyle’s native advertising platform. This technology allows you to fit various types of sponsored content right into news feeds without distracting users from the main element - the news content!

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