How Important is Mobile to Book Publishers?

December 26th, 2013

I published a blog post in mid-December at Digital Book World, mostly on the topic of mobile publishing. (I gently request that you read it alongside this post: otherwise I have to clumsily repost it here — and it’s only a click away). I’m probably the last blogger in the known universe to tackle mobile’s impact on publishing. I just felt that some commentators were firing off target. But I felt inhibited.

There’s been a vast amount written and published about the impact of mobile technology: is there anything left to say?

We’re all victims of technology hype. It goes with the territory. As technology managers our best approach is not trying to defeat the hype-masters. It’s to consider the question: if what they’re saying is correct then when will it affect my business? And exactly how much will it affect my business?

The hype-masters often miss the mark, whether they’re wrong or just premature in their enthusiasm. But we’ve learned a contingent strategy is required just in case they’re right. Technology moves forward at a variable pace. Sometimes it moves really quickly and we’re caught off guard.

So let’s take mobile.

The phones are expensive and breakable. The screens are small. We’re often staring at them while walking down the street or in a car or on a bus, none of which improves legibility.

And they’re completely addictive. There’s the rub.

Can you imagine, under any remote circumstance, that people are going to abandon their cell phones and resume staring into the desktop computers while waiting for the land line to ring?

I don’t think so.

But as Benedict Evans points out in the third slide I used in my DigitalBookWorld post, the publishing model for mobile simply hasn’t been determined. Evans notes that the web publishing model is clear and simple: “web page linking to web page.” Yep, that’s about it.

So what’s the mobile publishing model? It includes web browsers, and they matter for mobile. But apps are far more popular, and no one has discovered a reliable model to launch a new product into the app space.

Mobile reminds me of the early days of the World Wide Web: We can’t tell you exactly why you should be there. We can’t tell you exactly what you should be doing. But get over there, and hurry!

December 28, 2013: In a tweet today from very wise Joanna Penn, maestro of The Creative Penn notes: “I read on the Kindle app on the iPhone every day — mobile just another way to read?” It’s a solid point. But when you consider that there are over 3 billion smartphone users worldwide, I think that this is a relatively minor vision of a mobile strategy. What we learned during the web vs. print debate we’re only now learning with mobile: to flourish in a medium you need your software (and the way that you think about your presence) to be native. Repositioning an existing software application to an app will rarely fly. This isn’t a part-time job.