March 19, 2010 Last Updated 3:39 pm

Team approach to e-publishing may smooth entry into mobile and tablet publishing for many B2B publishers

It was hard enough convincing my employer to launch their first web sites back in 1995, I can imagine what it is like advocating creating a publication for the iPad or smart phones.

The reality is that many media owner only see expenses when the conversation of mobile and tablet publishing is broached.  (The reality is that many owners have totally forgotten the word “revenue” even exists as they concentrate all their efforts at cost control.) So getting an executive or owner to let the team enter the tablet or cell phone space may seem like a herculean task.

The solution may be to break out the products based on different content schemes: mobile and web, and print and tablet.  The breakout is based on the idea that tablet/reader publishing will be a leisure time activity the way print is (or that readers will be willing to spend more time with both tablets and print, when compared to mobile and web).

Although this is a simple solution it does raise the question again that many have been asking: did we make a mistake by aligning our web sites too much with our print products? The answer is “yes”.

It is pretty much a commonly held belief now that web sites should only have a loose relationship with the print products they are aligned with. But many publishers, especially on the B2B side, rushed to launch web sites and quickly gave away the advertising as “value-added” to their print advertising customers. Ad agencies were the co-conspirators in this move, and then for years found themselves trying to pry money for interactive from their traditional print-centric clients.  The reality is that print customers were never the best leads for B2B web advertising. These advertisers had a long history of measuring results by reader response card levels and liked getting those silly little laminates at the trade shows. The real leads were the back of the book advertisers who wanted a constant marketing message out there without the hassle of changing copy every month or hiring ad agencies.

For older readers, web reading is something that is task oriented and mainly during business hours. I need to find something and so I surf the web.

Google’s chief economist, Hal Varian pointed out in a recent speech that during the week newspaper readers spend much more time each session reading the print products than the online products. “What that says to me is that reading the news online is a work time activity. … Most people aren’t paid to sit at a computer and read newspapers. They’re snatching things throughout the day.”

Doesn’t this also describe mobile reading habits, as well? While I certainly see people reading on their phones I usually see this during the day, and rarely for long periods of time. My guess is that as long as phones have screens smaller than ten inches this will remain true.

So if one team can handle mobile and web, does that mean that the other handles print and tablet? And what about the issue of layouts and app development?

App development is a whole other ballgame that for small publishers will likely be handled by third parties (though I am strong believer that the biggest B2Bs threw away the future by not investing heavily in this area a year or two ago).
Many art directors are in the same position today that type setters were in the seventies.
As I mentioned way back before the iPad introduction in January (OK, that was a bit of a joke), design is the element that will separate out publishers — that is, those that take seriously the issue of both mobile and tablet product design will lead the pack in the coming months and years.

Most smaller publishers can not afford multiple art directors per magazine. Some throw two or three (or more) magazines at their art directors — always reminding them of the tight job market. How will these art directors manage their tight print deadlines and manage to work on tablet editions? They won’t.

Many art directors are in the same position today that type setters were in the seventies. I’m just old enough to remember the anger and fear some veteran production people felt with the introduction of computer technology, as rudimentary as it was.  If you are an art director today should you learn Adobe Air? Isn’t that software development, not graphic arts?  And every art director knows the ins and outs of Flash by now, right?

Before I joined Cahners there was a rather public event that effected many in the industry, though it is hardly remembered today: the company announced that since it was clear that Apple was going out of business they were transitioning all their production people over to PCs. While many may see this as a minor event, the world of art directors was turned on its heads. One thing that is a constant, Mac users love their Macs and hate to let go of them. But if Cahners, the undisputed leader in the B2B publications industry was making the move clearly there would be pressure at other companies to dump their Power Mac G3s, as well.

I mention this not to make fun of the Cahners decision, but to point out that once upon a time there was a company out there that could influence things to such a degree. Today, who in B2B is in a position to announce they have formed an application development team, let alone a tablet team?
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A few days ago I did a search on iTunes for B2B magazine apps, just to see if I’ve been missing something. The first app I came across was for Qualified Remodeler, an RSS based app that had a single-sponsor (bravo to Behr for the plunge — they will probably never get another chance to be a single-sponsor of an entire mobile publication again). But this magazine was fortunate, the publisher, Tim Campbell, did the development himself and made it all happen. Cygnus is lucky to have this guy.

In the consumer magazine world, Condé Nast, Hearst and Bonnier are the clear leaders, along with some of the vendors that support the industry. For them, with their larger staffs and more expensive page rates, the ability to form new teams and develop new tablet products might not be the herculean effort I think it will be for others.

As an aside, the MPA yesterday posted its first Magazine App Directory listing consumer magazines that currently have apps available. All the apps listed are available for the iPhone, while only a handful list Android or Blackberry.

Then there is ad sales . . . but any discussion about a revolution in B2B ad sales certainly deserves its own post.

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