Optimizing for everything digital
Production departments seek easier ways to format content for multiple digital devices
By Mark J. Miller
The numbers are pretty convincing about the rise of mobile devices. In the fourth quarter alone, Apple Inc. sold about 37 million iPhones and 15 million iPads. With all of those smartphones and tablets in the hands of users, it's no surprise that mobile ad spending is forecast to increase 80% this year to $2.61 billion, according to eMarketer Inc. estimates.
While the explosion of mobile devices doesn't mean that print is dead, it does mean that readers are increasingly consuming magazine-style content on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. And for b-to-b media companies, it means their production departments are challenged with finding efficient ways to simultaneously optimize content for print and a number of mobile devices.
The ultimate control that a designer used to have in creating layouts for the printed page has become a thing of the past as different tablets and different smartphones require that same content to be formatted in a variety of ways.
“We face that challenge and are addressing it by trying to style for "groups' of devices rather than every device that comes to market,” said Gene Bishop, VP-technology at ALM, which publishes The American Lawyer. “We are combing through how we deliver it and whether or not we need to customize the look based on product or content.”
Bishop said that the technology is getting much “smarter” than it used to be, and the formatting of Internet browsers can be much smoother than in the past. “We use sniffers to detect your browser and then direct you from there,” he said. “If we can auto format the content based on the 80/20 rule, we do all right.”
Robert Brai, COO and senior VP-operations at Superior Media Solutions, a production outsourcing company, said that many publishers just outsource mobile work to such organizations as Texterity or their own digital departments.
Statistics show that Android and iOS are the two most popular platforms, followed by RIM and Microsoft, Brai said. “Most companies build for Android and Apple and have a mobile-optimized version for the rest,” he added.
At Allured Business Media, the publisher of Cosmetics & Toiletries, the addition of mobile and tablets and digital, in general, has “stirred up everything” in production, according to Bryan Crowe, an art director at Allured.
“What we look for and hope to secure, are ways to deal with the material in a fashion that we are familiar with, to make it easier to do,” Crowe said. “That is the biggest challenge. It's the old story of finding an efficient way to repurpose the content in many ways. Small publishers are very challenged by this, because often the resources that do exist are cost-prohibitive.”
Allured uses a third party to help distribute content via mobile and other digital points, Crowe said, but that hasn't stopped digital from changing the culture of the office internally. “It changes almost monthly,” Crowe said, as the publisher attempts to figure out what the best way is to deal with different digital challenges. “It comes down to time and manpower,” he said. “We focus on what we can do, and work toward what we would like to do.”
UBM Canon is moving all of its digital editions to an HTML5 version, which holds the somewhat unrealized promise of creating content once and then rendering it relatively seamlessly on a variety of mobile devices, according to Roger Burg, VP-operations. “It's not the best solution around, because the various devices need custom versions for the best user experience,” he said. “The business model is just not there yet, at least for us in our markets. We'll have a lot of focus on that in 2012, making sure we're there when it makes sense.”
Burg notes that the advent of the $199 tablet has that marketplace growing quickly, so his team is gearing up to be ready for the inevitable growth in that area. “[Canon's] readers are generally engineers in high-tech manufacturing, so many have tablets at this point,” Burg said. “There will be a tipping point coming soon. Several months ago, I would have guessed three to five years. Now I think it is two years.”