Monday, January 4, 2010

Time to get (iPhone) mobile

If you're a newspaper publisher and haven't thought yet about a mobile strategy, go sit in the corner.

Mobile is where it's at (or will be soon). Consider this prediction last month from Morgan Stanley in The Mobile Internet Report: "The mobile Internet is ramping faster than desktop Internet did, and we believe more users may connect to the Internet via mobile devices than desktop PCs within five years."

That is, more people will access the Internet through things like smartphones, rather than waiting until they can get their hands on a computer keyboard.

So what does that mean for newspapers? The possibility of more eyeballs on their Web sites, which then could possibly be sold to advertisers to bolster a revenue stream that hasn't yet come close to matching the sales seen from traditional ads on newsprint.

Morgan Stanley credits the convergence of five factors for the "dramatic growth" it foresees in mobile Internet usage: 3G adoption, social networking (aided by Facebook), video (YouTube had 466 million global users in October, up 35 percent from the same month in 2008), VoIP and "impressive mobile devices."

Of the latter, the report says, "Apple’s iPhone, iTouch and App Store launches over (the) past 2.5 years created the spark for mobile Internet liftoff, as Microsoft’s launch of Windows 3.0 did for the PC in 1990 and the Netscape browser (and its IPO) did for the desktop Internet in 1995." (Report's pdf here.)

To be sure, news organizations like the New York Times and Reuters are actively pushing their product to mobile devices, and others are hiring to follow suit. But far more operations haven't taken the plunge, leading one newspaperman-turned-deep-thinker to plead for a mobile-first strategy.

He's worried, though, the response will be reminiscent of the "Web-first" rally cry that caused so much indigestion in newsrooms, where the concern was that pushing stories to the website as they were filed would scoop the print product. Yet one comment included in his mobile-first manifesto (Scribd here) offers some hope: "The only way you can do this wrong is to not do anything at all. Let's try SOMETHING other than talk about it."

To which those of us who want to make a living in newspapers say "Amen!"

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