Newspapers Are Messing Up Their Mobile Strategies, Researchers Say

Regional newspaper publishers are blithely shovelling their expensive content to mobile channels with no hint of a business model, according to new research.

Publications in 66 UK cities have mostly abandoned experiments with chargeable SMS delivery and have instead created free mobile websites.

But, out of the 23 papers with mobile sites, only three sell display advertising against their pages, according to a paper presented by researchers Francois Nel and Oscar Westlund to Cardiff University’s Future Of Journalism conference.

Classified advertising, which was launched on to 11 of those sites in 2010, is now entirely absent. And, of five mobile/tablet apps available for the titles, only one, The Belfast Telegraph, charges anything.

Nel and Westlund conclude “the vast majority of publishers do not engage with their users through mobile channels” and “publishers are tentative about developing content for this platform”. “Questions remain about whether such niche apps would cannibalise print and online audiences,” they say in their paper, The 4 Cs of Mobile News: Channels, Conversations, Content and Commerce.”

“Limited commercial practices from the web have been transferred to mobile. Current commercial approaches do little to bolster fledgling online businesses, much less make up for any losses in print circulation sales and the concomitant decline in advertising income.

“Unless newspapers rethink their current approaches, there is little evidence to indicate that newspapers will have any more economic success with mobile than they have had thus far online.”

Presenting the paper, Westlund told a crowd: “Publishers are actively pushing readers away from one medium to the other with no revenue stream.”

For the last two decades, most publishers have operated with one overriding mission – to republish their content on multiple new devices. But mostly that content is retained in its original form (linear prose, itself inherited from print).

By pushing that same content out to new devices for free with no corresponding business model, publishers risk readers substituting their lucrative print habit with cheap or free mobile consumption.

It is only with the advent of Future’s successful Guitar World Lick Of The Day app that we are beginning to see the possibility of publishers treating mobile as a medium for utility apps – apps that do bare connection with publication brands but which don’t blithely repurpose those publications’ content itself.

Each of the new media seem to recontextualise the media which went before them.