Nicholas Cleanthes is the Marketing Manager at YUDU. He has worked in the publishing space for four years and keeps a keen eye on the latest developments among big publishing brands as well as innovative trends from smaller titles
It is now a well-established fact that, among consumers, smartphone devices are, by a good and growing margin, the dominant form factor for consuming most content. They are, according to comScore, the dominant drivers of social media content and, according to Ofcom, the most popular device for getting online in the UK. In short, the smartphone is now something of a lynchpin in the modern device ecosystem.
So what does the growing predominance of the smartphone mean for publishers – and specifically, magazine publishers?
Well, the obvious implications have already been written about: the need for more short-form content (and the need to create specifically “short-form video” to cater towards non-desktop audiences), more palatable long-form content and so on. It would seem that in a number of these areas, the major publishing houses are responding as expected, particularly when it comes to sinking large sums into creating their own video content creation studios. This transition is important, but it is a discussion for another day.
A more foundation-level requirement for magazine publishers wanting to “tackle” smartphones is finding an easy and cost-effective way to hybridize traditional, page-turning editions with a responsive HTML/CSS that people are used to. I say this is a more foundational requirement because of the brands that have successfully synergized website content with their more traditional approach.
National Geographic, as a brand, leverages extremely high-quality written and photographic content across all of its titles and matches it with focused, first-rate web content that essentially acts either as a value-add, owing to the clear sign-posting towards the website throughout editions, or alternatively as a strong-quality brand in its own right.
The National Trust have also adopted a similar approach, creating high-quality short-form print material to complement the “hub website”. To give just one example, they created a short 20-page booklet about local walks, which actively encourages this multi-channel approach by asking readers to navigate to the website to learn more about each walk in detail.
The booklet in this case is admittedly a tantalizer to arouse interest in directing traffic to the website itself. This contrasts with the National Geographic approach which synergizes its digital edition and website content in a more even-handed way, with both the magazine and the website being as content-rich as each other. Both, however, demonstrate the ways in which different devices and channels, right down to the most traditional channel of all–print–can be played to their respective strengths.
That is easier said than done though. Where National Geographic and The National Trust have largely succeeded in this approach, others have failed, and not owing to lack of effort either, but rather to lack of a coherent strategy. As the differences between National Geographic and the National Trust highlight, there’s no universal panacea here; each brand needs to think long and hard about what makes its various channels unique and meaningful for audiences – and invariably, what is true for some will be different for others. For example, one trend we’ve found as a software supplier to publishers for many years is that niche publications tend to have an easier time migrating their user base over to digital if they’re expanding into the digital space from a previously print-exclusive space, but in general the inability to distinguish uniformly winning strategies makes things understandably difficult for brands.
Where publishers have undoubtedly missed a beat is in using the often-spoken-of responsive HTML/CSS to gear content specifically for a smartphone audience, now that the smartphone has so firmly entrenched itself as the dominant device in most of our lives. Admittedly, responsive CSS is now commonplace on most well-designed sites, but this width-resizing isn’t really smartphone-specific, it’s just re-gearing what was built for desktop consumption to make it more palatable on a smartphone.
This idea of smartphone-specific content (rather than smartphone as an afterthought) isn’t new, but it is only as of the past year or two that it seems to be gathering significant traction. We’re now seeing digital publishing solutions that can take digital replicas and adjust them to become responsive smartphone-suited text with a click of a button. This is a huge step forward, but why stop there? Putting the smartphone UX first when it comes to things like interfaces and even, as already mentioned, in creating video content could yield enormous dividends. The next few years will be especially interesting in this regard.