Mobile Apps in Publishing

By Jennifer Ford

Is your publication already ahead of the curve with mobile apps? Many larger publishers have long-established mobile apps. One visit to the Newsstand in the iTunes store and you’ll get a better grasp of the kinds of publications that are already in this publishing space.

But maybe you’re still waiting to jump on the app wagon. Maybe you don’t have resources to build an app in house. Maybe you can’t spend the money on hiring someone to build one for you. Or maybe your readers aren’t there (yet).

Any way you look at it, though, mobile apps are a growing facet of publishing and they’re something I keep an eye on. Considering approximately 67 million iPads have been sold to date, it might be time to start considering a tablet app to be a priority. The publication I work for is in the process of building mobile apps, and to edify myself on the subject of publishing and mobile apps, I attended “Mobile Publishing: Repurposing Your Content to Create Highly Engaging Apps,” a webinar hosted by FOLIO: magazine, presented by GENWI, a mobile app developer. I found it to be pretty interesting and thought I’d share a recap here.

Sean Brown, digital creative director for Fairchild Fashion Media, was online to share his experience with building a mobile app. He is also past interactive creative director for Condé Nast Media. Some mobile projects he’s worked on are The Daily W, the Epicurious cooking app and GQ for the iPhone (which has been replaced by the GQ iPad app).

During decisionmaking about creating a mobile app, Brown and his colleagues ask themselves several questions:

  • What’s the best interface?
  • How can we capitalize on the device’s functionality?
  • How do we get content onto a mobile app?
  • What will be the best user experience?

The key, for Brown, is identifying what each unique publication has to offer and optimizing it as something interesting and different for users. Each publication has its own brand, and  as an editor you need to find your goal and then figure out what device will work best for your app. The most important offering from Epicurious, for example, was recipes, so they created an app that showcased their recipes in an easily searchable app.

PJ Gurumohan, cofounder and CEO of GENWI, talked about his product, too. Theirs is one of many cloud-based mobile app products. I do not pretend to be a developer, but I do know that cloud computing is cool. The way these mobile apps work is you upload your content to your content management system, and the app (once all its parameters have been set) pulls from that to deliver it automatically in the right way on the right mobile device to the app users.

“Mobile is a completely different beast” from print and web, Gurumohan said. GENWI was able to create the Daily W app for Condé Nast in two weeks, which seems to be much faster than the norm. My theory on the fast turnaround for that app is that the publisher already had a content management system that was compatible with the GENWI platform.

Both Brown and Gurumohan talked about an “engaging” experience. You’re no longer competing with other magazines, said Brown, “you’re competing with users’ time and availability,” so a mobile app can reach people at times when they can’t read in print or on a website. A mobile app should be utilitarian, content rich, targeted to readers, informative and personal. From the developer perspective, Gurumohan added that touch activation, real-time content delivery and analytics are ways that a mobile app can benefit your publication.

The draw for a mobile app, said Brown, is that a tablet bridges the gap between a standard website experience and print. Gurumohan added that many publishers lost an emotional connection to their readers by switching to the web, and the tablet is a way to regain that connection. For publications supported by advertising, it is great news that users can be more connected and that ads can be more intuitive and less obtrusive to users.

One question asked by the audience that I thought was particularly important was, “How do smaller publishers with less money enter the game?” And unfortunately, it seems, if you want to create an app, you’re going to need to spend some money, unless you’re already a developer. Another good question was, “What analytics are important to look at after launching an app?” Important analytics are somewhat similar to your web analytics: number of downloads, number of articles read, location of readers, whether an article was shared on social media. Pay attention to those analytics to deliver more targeted content. Also, Some generic content management system apps like Blogger (Blogspot) allow you to automatically render your content into mobile, so smaller publishers might want to explore those options.

A video of the webinar is available for FOLIO: subscribers at “Mobile Publishing: Repurposing Your Content to Create Highly Engaging Apps.”

Share your thoughts below! Does your publication have a mobile app? Are you considering developing one? My next post will be a Q&A about content strategy.


One thought on “Mobile Apps in Publishing

  1. Pingback: Should You Build a Mobile App or Mobile Website? « e1evation, llc

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