Show Me the (Mobile) Money

Just when it seems that magazine publishers are beginning to understand how to monetize their online brand extensions (sort of), along comes mobile to confuse the digital matter. Finding audiences online – what they want to see and where and when they want to see it – is one thing, but how do you know what people want to see on their mobile devices, especially when these devices vary so vastly, from screen-size and capabilities to frequency of use?

Well thanks to thought-pushers like Apple, mobile web awareness has increased enormously, even if people don’t have an iPhone. And with that increased awareness comes increased mobile web usage. According to Nielsen, since December of 2007 mobile web users have increased from 35 million to 40 million. The time for publishers to figure this out has officially come.

Hearst is the leading the way, with nine current mobile platforms. Director of mobile for Hearst magazines and digital media, Sophia Stuart, explained at the Min Day Summit last week in New York that mobile is not something that can be ignored by publishers, but that it will not work for every publication. “The content must make sense for the user. This is not the web, it’s the user’s personal device so it has to be relevant, helpful information.” Hearst currently incorporates five revenue streams and packages their mobile platform along with the print as a line item and not simply an add-on. Stuart noted that there are four reasons to develop a web application:

1. Entertainment
2. Time sensitive information, like breaking news
3. Personalized information that is specific to each user
4. Lifestyle information, like restaurant tips, music store locations, etc.

But if the web is now available on so many phones, why develop a mobile platforms for your readers? “The number one reason is for targeted advertising,” says John Paris, director of mobile products for Time, Inc., “and people don’t want to search for things on their phones, they want the content to come to them.”

While the web is the place to experiment, mobile devices are not. Paris affirms “I will not be the guinea pig for any mobile company. I will only listen to pitches that have proven, powerful results from three major brands.”