There are 233 million people in America who have mobile phones, or 76 percent of the population, according to the International Association for Wireless Telecommunications. Thirty-three million are regular mobile Internet users and 30 percent (roughly 70 million) have used their phones to access the Internet, all part of the $127 billion mobile industry. According to the Strategy Analytics report, “Global Cellular Data Forecast 2007-2011,” global cellular data users are expected to grow from 1.8 billion in 2007 to close to 2.5 billion in 2011. Consumer spending on mobile “infotainment,” the report says, is expected to double between 2007 and 2011 to $64 billion. And Nokia predicts the number of mobile phone users will top three billion worldwide by 2009.

With all of these juicy numbers, it’s no wonder many publishers are hell-bent on capturing part of the mobile space, and, of course, figuring out how to monetize it.

The big publishers, as you’d expect, have been comparatively aggressive in pushing their mobile content.In August, Hearst launched a pair of mobile sites— (Harper’s Bazaar) and (Marie Claire)—bringing the total number of mobile sites within its portfolio to nine. A few weeks later during New York’s Fashion Week—the Super Bowl of the fashion world—Hachette announced a partnership with Yahoo to offer “fresh from the runway” news, photos and all-important trends via mobile devices.

“It’s a real business for us,” says Olivier Griot, Hachette’s managing director, mobile, who was hired away from Hearst in 2006 to build out Hachette’s digital offerings. “We see it as aggregating an audience on the phone the same way we aggregate an audience for our Web sites. We’re essentially selling impressions.”

Griot says Hachette—which currently offers mobile products for its Elle,, Car and Driver and brands—has started to see the age range of its mobile readers skew older. “We’re seeing 24- to 44-year-olds access our content; it’s not just teens—and that seems to be the trend in the marketplace.”

So how does a magazine publisher like Hachette prioritize converging goals of content, marketing, and advertising sales for its mobile initiatives? Griot says it starts with the editors, and their ability to create content that makes sense for mobile devices.

“For Car and Driver, our editors have this incredible access to car companies,” says Griot. “More and more, they’re generating content specific for mobile.” Griot points to early adopters of mobile—news organizations, sports media companies, and something like—as having content most suited to on-the-fly devices.

Priority number two for Hachette, Griot says, is to market that content to prospective users, both through the magazine and the Web. For Premiere and ElleGirl, not having magazines to promote their mobile offerings is a road bump, but not a mortal one. “It comes down to this: Are you an authority in that segment? Can you deliver content that makes sense?”

Sophia Stuart, director of mobile for Hearst Magazines Digital, agrees. “Our number-one priority is the consumer experience and with that we seek to create delightful solutions on-the-go,” says Stuart. “For Hearst, it is all about content and service and developing solutions that are specific to each of our brands.”  For example, Hearst created a paint calculator and design dictionary for House Beautiful. Stuart says that Hearst’s text-messaging advertiser program—with Macy’s, Clinique and Adidas on board—and downloadable wallpaper offerings are generating revenue.

Smaller publishers are wading into mobile, too. In July, Scientific American announced the launch of a mobile Internet site. “There’s a new scientific discovery every day,” says Mina Lux, managing director, vice president of online. “So it made sense to offer that data to our readers.”
Lux says the growth has been significant (60,000 page views in the first three weeks), allowing the magazine to sell a sponsorship for its next iteration.

And then there are b-to-b players with the expertise—and data—to make mobile work. “We realized fairly quickly that there was a business for us here,” says Scott McKenzie, vice president/editorial director, digital for Nielsen Business Media. McKenzie says that since its mobile launch in January, Billboard has seen traffic to its mobile site skyrocket to nearly 5 million page views per month on little more promotion than house ads online and in print. The early success allowed Billboard to sell a $100,000 sponsorship to LG electronics shortly after launch. And this past summer, Billboard rolled out “MobileBeat,” a mobile site that enabled 20 bloggers-turned-concertgoers to submit real-time concert reviews using their camera-phones.

“This is a space we care a lot about,” says McKenzie, who points to Billboard’s own coverage of ringtones, a growing piece of the music industry, and its Mobile Entertainment Live conference as evidence the magazine was taking mobile seriously even before rolling out its own mobile products.

Such success has made mobile one of Nielsen’s “top tier” objectives in 2008, McKenzie says. “Some of our brands are still dipping their toes in the water,” he says, while others—like Hollywood Reporter and Adweek, Brandweek and Mediaweek, have an audience that expects business information on the go.

But there are hurdles—technological, cost, marketing—keeping small to mid-sized publishers from entering the fray.

“I think it is still a fairly new industry,” says Griot. “The technology is not off the shelf yet,” leaving publishers with few options. “You can license your brand, and have someone else put your mobile content out for you—and you lose control of a lot of critical aspects of your brand which affect your core business.” Or you go D.I.Y., says Griot, and that’s “very complicated.” Optimizing your content for a variety of phones, screens and establishing relationships with mobile phone carriers is not cheap. “There’s a big cost factor involved,” says Lux. (Scientific American outsourced its mobile project to a company called MindMatics; Hearst developed its sites in-house.)

Then, of course, there’s the slow browsing speed of the networks. Says Lux, sounding like a typical user: “To display a simple page—it’s often grueling.”

But the costs and accompanying headaches are worth it, considering the relative infancy of mobile. “The mobile market is very aggressive and is far from reaching a plateau,” says Stuart.  “We have only started to realize the power behind mobile platforms and are aggressively pursuing these opportunities.”