Saturday, November 03, 2007

Magazine publishers go mobile for readers

Magazine publishers go mobile for readers
Posted by Amanda Fung

Launch sites for cell phone screens to win share of ad market; enough eyeballs?

As readers fled the printed page for the Internet, savvy publishers followed them to the computer, creating Web versions of their magazines. Now they are following them to their cell phones.

In the last year, several magazine publishers have launched Web sites designed specifically for cell phone screens and consumers on the go. Most publishers are not charging anything to access their mobile sites, hoping to grab a share of the emerging mobile advertising market. That market is projected to generate revenue of $16.2 billion in 2011, up from an estimated $2.8 billion this year.

"All the big publishers are realizing that investing in mobile sites is critical," says Olivier Griot, who joined Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. 18 months ago to spearhead its mobile strategy.

Since February, Hachette has launched four mobile Web sites for fashion titles Elle and ELLEgirl, entertainment magazine Premiere and auto magazine Car and Driver. Similarly, Hearst has rolled out nine mobile sites for hot titles including Esquire, Cosmopolitan and Seventeen this year. Last month, CondeNet, Conde Nast's digital division, unveiled its fifth mobile site, All three publishers are developing mobile sites for other print titles next year.

Publishers say they are reacting to consumers' desire for Internet content that can be accessed anywhere, and the cell phone has already emerged as much more than a communications device.

"Consumers want complete control of where and when they consume content," says Boris Fridman, chief executive of Crisp Wireless, a Manhattan-based tech company that helps build and operate mobile Web sites for media companies.

"We want to reach women wherever they are," adds Sophia Stuart, director of mobile for Hearst's digital media group. "Women [would] rather leave home without lipstick than a cell phone."

Because of the challenges of small cell phone screens, publishers have to design content that is different from their regular Web pages in both style and substance. Stories are shortened because consumers typically spend only about five minutes at a time reading text on their mobile devices, versus 30 minutes in front of their computers.

"On your mobile phone, you snack on information," says Mr. Fridman.

While most publishers have their eyes on mobile advertising dollars, a few have gone in a different direction. In December, Time Inc. launched a mobile application linked to its popular fashion magazine InStyle. Mobile subscribers are required to pay $3.99 a month to use the cell phone program, which puts photos of the latest celebrity outfits and hairstyles at consumers' fingertips. InStyle Mobile currently has 20,000 subscribers.

Tough task

But publishers have their work cut out for them. Making money from these mobile offerings won't be easy, as industry observers question whether these tiny sites will lure enough eyeballs.

For example, the four Hachette mobile sites are collectively drawing 2.5 million page views a month, a fraction of the 40 million monthly page views each of its corresponding Web sites receives. CondeNet and Hearst say it is too early to disclose traffic.

"We still haven't seen a significant demand for information on the mobile phone," says Barry Parr, media analyst at Jupiter Research. "It will be a difficult path."

Research also shows that the average length of time a consumer will subscribe to an application like InStyle Mobile is two months. Only navigation applications, like mobile versions of the popular online direction tool MapQuest, have proven to generate money for companies, according to research firm Telephia Inc.

In addition, only half of the consumers who pay their wireless carrier for Web services actually log on to the Web from their phones, the firm points out.

While the page views are low right now, Mr. Griot of Hachette says they are increasing 20% each month. And he notes that blue chip advertisers such as auto giant Ford and electronic retailer Best Buy are already spending millions of dollars on banner ads to appear on mobile phones.

Counting on growth

Publishers believe their numbers will increase as consumers become educated on how to use their cell phones to access Internet content. And companies like Time Inc. have the fat wallets to promote their new mobile offerings.

"We are committed to being on the cutting edge and offering something so much richer than what is out there," says Amy Keohane, Time's vice president of and creative development.

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