As the number of mobile devices capable of carrying content has reached more than 200 million worldwide and continues to grow, b-to-b publishers are working to find new ways to connect to their audiences through this channel—and generate some extra revenue in the process. Just last month, for example, TechWeb's InformationWeek became the first b-to-b tech brand on Amazon's Kindle eReader.
Most publishers and their production departments, though, are still focused mainly on finding ways to get content on to iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smartphones.
“If you want to grow reach and get your brand message out not only via your Web sites but also on mobile devices, you need to become more sophisticated,” said Stephan Scherzer, exec VP-general manager of IDG's PC World and Macworld.
These two brands have released WebKit-optimized mobile versions of their Web sites to attract users with high-end browsers. Web-Kit is an open source engine used on the iPhone, Palm Pre and Android phones that makes sites much more viewable to the average mobile user. This has led to extremely fast growth, Scherzer said.
“A database-driven content strategy and the ability to grow your user database and become as targeted as possible is core to being successful,” he said. “Revenue will follow the eyeballs.”
Jason Brown, VP-e-media at Canon Communications, said his company currently focuses mainly on providing content to iPhones and BlackBerrys. He advises publishers to use open source platforms such as Drupal, Joomla or WordPress because they provide many options for rendering content to be viewed on mobile devices. Canon is automating the digital content flow as much as possible, he said, so that copy written for one format can be disseminated in many forms.
Vance Publishing has built a centralized database for all of its content, which allows it to be distributed to a variety of places simultaneously, according to Tom Denison, VP-e-Media. Many of the company's sites share content, and this gives the editors one point of entry to post content, he said. “So e-Media, in conjunction with editorial staff, can predetermine that type of content that goes out to our mobile sites,” he said.
Denison said Vance sends out a number of alerts each day to mobile devices, particularly to the farming community that comprises one of the markets it serves.
The design of content may differ depending on the mobile device targeted. Peter Meirs, VP-production technologies at Time Inc., suggests having the different layouts and output-specific formatting completed as close to the beginning of the process as possible. “It is far better to design via template for each platform during the content-creation cycle than to take print and try to reorganize elements to fit three-inch, six-inch and 10-inch screens after the fact,” he said.
Meirs suggests creating articles in an XML (Extensible Markup Language) form that can be automatically redesigned for other formats by using XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation). “The resulting content wouldn't be as stylized as what you'd find in most consumer magazines, but it would be a very efficient way to create a multichannel output process,” he said.
Michael Esposito, VP-operations at Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., said it would be great if a production department could add staff to handle these added mobile responsibilities. “However, for the majority of publishers these days, it will be an exercise in optimization,” he said. “The primary goal of this optimization is to leverage existing tools and resources to produce and distribute more diverse branded content across all available channels.” Hachette has worked with global partners to create a hybrid production system that can produce multichannel content that now includes mobile.
The biggest challenges mobile brings to a production department are likely to be cultural more than technical, Esposito said. “There still exists unclear territory and procedures regarding the production of digital content, which certainly includes mobile,” he said.
Rapidly changing technology also poses plenty of challenges. “This creates an uncertainty about how to best manage the process in a sustainable format,” Esposito said. “It also can create the notion that technology can automate the entire process. This is simply not the case. Technology can automate a very high percentage, but what media companies do is merge technology with creativity.” M