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Delivering e-newsletters on mobile devices a challenge

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The question of whether—and how—to create mobile-friendly e-newsletters is top of mind for many publishers this year.

“The mobile implication for publishers, advertisers and readers is going to become a bigger and bigger issue,” said Eric Shanfelt, exec VP-online media for Aspire Media. “It’s already a very big issue that I bet a lot of people aren’t thinking about right now.”

Shanfelt said it’s critical for publishers to look at their e-newsletters on various mobile devices. “That will completely change your view of how you put your e-mail newsletter together,” he said. “It’ll also change your view of how you do advertisements.”

For instance, Shanfelt said, he is seeing more text ads in newsletters because many e-mail clients and mobile devices don’t render graphics or images.

E-newsletter readers accessing e-mail through BlackBerry devices, in particular, are a concern, because many links appear broken on that device, said Tom Smith, VP-Web analytics at United Business Media’s TechWeb.

“Mobile delivery is a real concern and real challenge,” he said. “Frankly, I haven’t heard from any one [e-mail] vendor [with] an answer that gave me great confidence that they’ve got an answer to the BlackBerry problem.”

In the meantime, Smith recommends that BlackBerry users subscribe to text-only newsletters. “It’s not a perfect solution, but today, in my view, that remains the best way to get a newsletter on the BlackBerry.”

Mobile penetration varies by market. Alex Kam, VP-digital media at Incisive Media, estimates that as many at 60% of users accessing the company’s legal content are doing so from BlackBerry devices. As a result, the company is in the process of creating different prototypes for mobile-friendly sites and e-newsletters.

“We’re looking at ways of creating thin sites, in terms of graphics, but very rich in terms of content,” he said. “It is a bit of an art when you’re editorially driven to get that value in a very short sentence. We’re really trying to get that balance.”

Other markets are seeing much less demand for mobile-friendly content. “A very small portion of our audience is accessing our sites from a mobile device—less than 10%,” said James Bohi, director of online sales for 1105 Media’s Government Information Group. Many of Bohi’s advertisers are more focused on lead generation—a goal that’s hard to achieve in the mobile arena, he said.

“For the most part, the almost exclusive play that you can have through mobile right now is more branding than lead generation,” he said. “It’s very difficult to create a lead-generation campaign in a mobile format. It’s just not a feasible medium right now for government trade advertisers.”

If possible, Shanfelt said, publishers should do a reader demographic survey to determine how many people are receiving e-mail on mobile devices. “Make sure you understand the implications of that, both in the way you design your newsletter and in your metrics, too, because things like open rates are greatly impacted by whether the e-mail client strips images.”

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