‘The tipping point is now’: BBC and Future outline mobile strategies at Publishing Expo

Engage with your readers, use your existing skills, keep doing what you do well – these were the messages coming from the big digital keynote debate at Publishing Expo. It was standing room only at a session which saw Rebekah Billingsley, BBC Worldwide mobile devices publisher, and Mark Wood, boss of Future UK, among those explaining how they were getting to grips with digital, multiplatform reality.

Billingsley opened by underlining the importance of mobile, saying “the tipping point is now” as she quoted research that showed access to material via mobile devices is set to outstrip access via desktop by 2013. BBC Worldwide publishes Focus and Good Food in tablet form and, said Billingsley, those titles have racked up 70,000 downloads. Her tips were;

1) Choose a technology which makes sense. “Several off-the-shelf publishing solutions bolt onto InDesign,” she said. That means you can use existing staff’s existing skills and minimise cost.

2) Experiment and innovate. “Analyse your feedback and use that to try things out, to experiment,” she said. It was another recurring theme of the day – Billingsley was not the first speaker to urge publishers to use the audience data they so often fail to gather or analyse properly.

3) Utilise your existing assets. “If you have brand, audience and talent you have an advantage,” she said.

“Analyse, test, improve – that’s the cycle we work to,” she concluded.

Future’s Mark Wood took the theme further, talking about how his company is using all available platforms “to engage with our readers who are passionate about the areas we cover”. This can involve breaking down traditional ways of thinking, and Wood used an anecdote to illustrate the point.

On the way to the event he’d popped into the Apple store. He spoke to a sales assistant about what he did, and the sales assistant said he was a big fan of Guitarist magazine. Wood asked if he would buy it on iPad. The assistant said no, he liked the physical magazine. “But,” he told Wood, “stop putting those CDs on the cover – I want that online.”

Wood said: “Digital means we can see what our consumers want so we can sell them things without wasting their time. And being able to target audiences means we can get into new geographical areas more easily.” In short, he said, “With digital, the economics are different to print; but the content and skills are the same.”

Nikolay Malyarov from Newspaper Direct agreed that “if publishers focus on content that will bring readers”, but also expressed reservations about relying on one device. Apple’s new terms hung over the discussion. Malyarov reckons the coming proliferation of mobile devices means Apple will be challenged commercially and the rigidity of its App terms will soften. But asked if he saw Apple as a constricting influence, Wood simply said “If they want 30 per cent, we don’t mind”.

Future has the scale to publish on all platforms, it knows it needs to be on them, so Apple’s conditions are an acceptable cost.

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