This is part of a series of articles and interviews focusing on mobile publishing ahead of TheMediaBriefing’s conference Mobile Media Strategies 2011 on June 14.
Mobile phones know where you are. In fact any device with a GPS chip can track users’ whereabouts – physical location is just one of the ways the latest generation of mobile apps are building accurate pictures of user behaviour. And digital entrepreneurs are using this data to build services and revenue streams based on exactly what users do.
As Richard Waters writes in the Financial Times, Color, the much-hyped picture-sharing app that was to the tune of $41 million in March, is just one of a new breed of apps whose content and business mode is based on its users’ actions (emphasis is mine):
“The software taps deeply into handsets, drawing on components such as Global Positioning System chips, gyroscopes and accelerometers to pinpoint where they are, how fast they are moving and which way up they are being held…
“Such innovations are the tip of a data iceberg. Smartphones, social networks and other accoutrements of modern digital life are generating vast new data sets that are revving up the digital economy.”
What strikes me is the sheer amount of data that could be collected about exactly how, where and when readers engage with news brands through their mobile devices.
Publishers potentially could capture a detailed picture of what their mobile app readers do everyday – perhaps also building a picture of what they buy, who they are with and what they are thinking. Provided users are happy to share this stuff, publishers can build an accurate picture of the lifestyle and habits of their consumers.
Particularly for consumer media, where the goal is to interest readers in products they may like to buy through a Faustian pact of editorial and advertising, the possibilities of harnessing the always-on habits of consumers through location-based check-ins are many.
What about signing commercial deals based on what people actually do, what they buy and where they go out at night – rather than the current model of what they might do?
Here’s the FT’s Richard Waters again:
“The traditional management virtues of gut instinct and seat-of-the pants decision-making are being replaced by reliance on intensive number-crunching and the objective testing of multiple potential courses of action.”
Digital advertisers already live and breathe user data – it’s something publishers are rapidly coming to provide as standard (check out our interview with Trinity Mirror’s Paul Hood and this video chat with Jakob Nielsen from GroupM for some more background.)
App store distribution headaches
Of course, it’s not all that simple. At the moment publishers struggle to find out exactly who their app users are. Apple’s App Store dominates media app distribution and revenue share right now – iPhone and iPad lead the way in terms of app investment from the main newspaper and magazine brands and understandably so. Which is why it’s such a frustration that Apple takes not only 30 percent of revenue from in-app subscriptions but also customer data.
Recent events show that Cupertino does listen to some publishers’ requests however. Telegraph Media Group’s digital editor Ed Roussel, who has just launched a new paid-for Telegraph iPad app, says he “found Apple were very helpful.” He told the FT’s Tim Bradshaw:
“With our trial [free] product, we had a discussion with Apple about that [data sharing] and what they told us was that they didn’t want mandatory fields as a condition of downloading the app, but that it could be voluntary. I don’t think they have changed their position on that,” he says.
“People talk in a rather blanket way about data. When you are very specific, they do listen and do respond.”
So Apple will listen if not exactly act on publishers’ concerns. Hence Pearson’s very real threat that with the growth of alternative tablet platforms, it’s quite relaxed about saying “thanks, but no thanks” to Apple’s app store.
Indeed, these are early days. The growth of Google’s mobile operating system, Android, is phenomenal. It is the world’s leading smartphone platform in terms of market share (not by revenue) and more manufacturers and publishers are being attracted by the more favourable revenue and data sharing options. Gartner reckons that 49 percent of the world’s smartphones will run Android in 2012.
So then the possibilities of data capture and management grow and multiply. So what are you planning to do with the information your users give you?
TheMediaBriefing’s second major conference Mobile Media Strategies 2011 on June 14 will discuss all these issues and more. Book before May 20 to take advantage of our early bird offer
Speakers include Microsoft, BBC Worldwide, Reuters, Guardian, Telegraph, DK Books, Incisive Media, comScore, Bonnier and more. It’s an entire day focused on the mobile web and app ecosystem and where your media business fits in.