Mobile devices, tablets offer challenging opportunities for content distribution
By Mark J. Miller
Many b-to-b publishing companies are still taking a wait-and-see approach toward offering content designed specifically for tablets and creating apps targeted to their audiences. A few, however, are forging ahead.
“The mobile device and tablet are the channels of distribution for corporate decision-makers,” said Joey Fortuna, chief technology officer of Ziff Davis. “Think about the last meeting you attended in which anything close to half the attendees walked in cradling an open laptop, with its monitor wobbling around. Happens less and less.”
Key Communications, publisher of USGlass magazine, puts out versions of its titles after the content has been sent to and finalized with the printer so there is no chance for any differences between the two versions. Holly Biller, VP-media services for the company, said there has been a lot of trial-and-error along the way, and she doesn't foresee that changing. She also pointed out that the production department gets to be more creative than usual when involved with app creation. “It's exciting for us as a company, and we've found that their creativity and desire to expand has served us all well,” she said.
Edgell Communications' production department creates apps for Apple and Android platforms for the company's events. Edgell also produces a browser version of each app for BlackBerry users. Robert Keenan, VP-online media, said that Edgell goes out of its way to present content on the app in a different way than in other media. The production department also tags the content so personalized schedules can be delivered to users.
Keenan said companies starting to experiment in this area should look for a platform that is built around a content management system. “Some event app platforms are a bit like black boxes, where you provide the content and someone else builds the app,” he said. “That limits your flexibility in making changes and adaptations.”
He also warned companies to look out for recurring costs. For most of the app platforms he looked at, costs were the same for the first year but began to fluctuate after two or three years.
BNP Media began its app production by placing content solely on iPads but has since started to put additional effort toward reaching the Android market, according to Corporate Creative Director Mike Powell.
McGraw-Hill Cos. builds its print pages with the idea that they will eventually go digital. “We build our page layout templates with styles and tagging to meet both print and digital requirements, and minimize additional production work,” said Brenda Griffin, senior director of integrated media operations at McGraw-Hill Construction.
Isaac Sacolick, CIO of McGraw-Hill Construction, also said that the company stores all content in XML and a searchable database. “Our core strategy around content is to store it in databases and develop [application programming interfaces] so that content can more easily be repurposed in different ways.” The entire creative team is being trained in HTML5 to help facilitate app development, he said.
Ziff Davis has mobile content as a separate work flow, Fortuna said. “The experience in mobile and tablet is so different from what we see in Web and direct ... that the initiatives occupy separate spaces in our work flow,” he said. (Ziff Davis designs for the iPad because sales for the device outpace its nearest competitor by 2 to 1.)
Fortuna also said that production departments shouldn't think they can cleanly repurpose existing content to tablets and recommended using an HTML5 interface. “There's no need to look for unicorns, or even zebras, when a horse will do just as well,” he said.