For magazine publishers, mobile content has emerged as a distinct delivery platform, and maximizing the use of it is an important strategy in an increasingly fractured media landscape. Users want access to content wherever they are and whenever they want it and for a growing number of professionals that includes their mobile devices. Consider that revenue for wireless data;anything that’s not voice-related;was $3.7 billion for the first half of 2005, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, up 85 percent from the same period 2004.

Yet for publishers in the early stages of mobile development, it’s less about the content itself and more about how the content gets from publisher to consumer.

Hearst has the perspective of moving from a completely outsourced wireless model to one that brought in what director of mobile services Olivier Griot calls "core competencies";content generation, marketing, programming and carrier representation.

Through it all, however, has been a pattern where technology and user experience drives content. "It’s hard to speak of content in the mobile context, because it’s really all about how easy it is to navigate to your mobile site and how easy it is to access this particular bit of content. It’s not so much the raw content, it’s more the overall experience of the user," says Griot.

The Deal LLC, which launched the Daily Deal as a wireless product in 2004, chose to outsource the entire production process to a technology partner and charges a $180 subscription fee according to CEO Kevin Worth. The vendor gets a piece of subscription revenues through the licensing arrangement. Subscribers are currently in the "couple hundred" range.

Griot, who says that Hearst’s mobile reach is into the six figures for users across its product lines, calls mobile content an "entertainment snack" that users access at downtime moments during the day.

Trial and Error

Because mobile is such a new medium, and users typically can’t be counted on for constructive content suggestions, Griot is left to experiment. "We have a built-in infrastructure that is flexible enough that we can try different things and a back-end where we can get accurate reporting. It’s a little bit of trial and error. We track what users do on our mobile site and we fine-tune it as we go."

Griot, who used to outsource the entire operation, has pulled some of the process in-house and left the "hardcore programming" to the experts. "You have maybe 1,500 types of handsets available right now in the U.S. and every single one of them has different parameters for its screen, protocols and network technology, so you need to be able to find a technology partner that can manage this."

Content creation is obviously best done in-house, says Griot, with the exception of ringtones. Marketing is another competency best handled by the publisher, but key among the in-house components is managing relationships with carriers who are notoriously fickle about the types of content that make it onto their networks. "We have much more weight as Hearst Magazines when we talk to Verizon or Cingular. Because they are so controlling of what goes on the networks, we can add a lot of value." | | |