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Mobile news- the new Gutenberg moment?

By Anastasia Costisanu

The Financial Times might be one of the best instance of a succesful transition through all the media changes that have happened in the last century. Established in 1888, when Queen Victoria was on the throne, the newspaper has evolved to a turning point in 2012, when digital subscriptions surpassed the print ones. But the paper is facing a new challenge: 45% of the total online traffic comes from mobile devices. With the mobile phones becoming more and more practical for its users, FT is set to come up with a strategy for formating the paper for mobile devices. But, as James Lamont admits, ”it`s a difficult business model”.

Indeed, Reuters Institute`s Digital News Report finds smartphones and social media as the most powerful agents of change for the media landscape. The We Are Social global social media agency report states that by 2018, more than one-third of consumers worldwide, or 2.56 billion people, are expected to use smartphones, in the circumstances when laptops and deskopts are witnessing a decline in the share of web traffic. However, the mobile share of web traffic varies sharply across countries, with Russia accounting for only 12%, as opposed to Nigeria, the country with the highest score of mobile share, scoring 79%. In this context, some media outlets are making considerable steps into meeting the challenges posed by the shift to mobile consumption, while other are overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change.

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Source: We are social. StatCounter 2015

Juan Senor, from the Innovations Media consulting group, speaking at a Business and Practice of Journalism seminar, said that this change is brought by a new generation of consumers, which is not represented solely by millenials. According to him, embracing this platform can be fundamentally important, since it is the driving force of audience growth and it requires a total rethink of how news is produced and consumed. A primary example of the total rethink and embrace of the mobile platform is the business news site Quartz, launched in 2012 and being the first mobile-only news outlet in the world. Being digital only and aiming at the digital natives public, the concept and design of news begins with the tablet and the smartphone. The platform`s business revenue bet is native advertising, while 80% of the traffic comes from social media.

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Screenshot qz.com

Mobile represents a content and business model that still needs to be solved. It is a platform that has its distinct limitations and advantages, like the fact that advertisers cannot use cookies, a feature desktop computers and laptops offer in order to track consumers. The audience expectations of a mobile platform are different as well from a desktop computer, and exporting the desktop content to a mobile one might lead to confusion and a lack of interest in the respective content. Neverthless, media companies are aware of the potential that mobile platforms carry: the content can reach more people, at any time of the day. Capitalizing this potential is the biggest challenge media companies are facing now, mobile platform being the hardest medium to monetize compared to television or newspapers.

Vice founder Shane Smith stated in an interview with Bloomberg that ”mobile is the new Wild West, but very difficult to get our heads around”. Not many though are as enthusiastic about the ”mobile-first” buzz. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress, Financial Times chief technician John O`Donovan advised publishing companies not to focus on one platform, but instead to look at the wide picture. ” Financial Times and CNN are among the media companies that advocate instead for a ”platform appropriate” approach, aiming at placing content on the platfroms where it makes business sens to do so. “The bigger game is to be as broad as possible, and how you do that is crucial — it’s about interacting with people through different touch points in a cost effective way”, ended O`Donovan.