Mobile phone
Credit: lirneasia on Flickr. Some rights reserved
You're searching the net on your mobile or see a link to an article a contact has shared on social media. You recognise the name of the media title as it's regularly on the newsstand you pass on your way to work, so you open the link to read on your commute.

Instead of simply being able to enjoy the editorial the journalist has crafted, however, you find yourself having to zoom and resize the site on your screen. You rotate your handset to see if it helps, but still have to negotiate your way around images that don't render correctly and banner adverts selling something that is undecipherable because the creative is too small.

Reading editorial on mobiles is mostly just a fiddle.

Most major publishers in the UK are still relying on content sites developed for desktop viewers to serve their mobile consumersFiona Salmon, Vibrant Media
It's because most major publishers in the UK are still relying on content sites developed for desktop viewers to serve their mobile consumers.

Although 60 per cent of the UK's national daily news publications have a site that displays effectively on mobile, the research department at Vibrant Media found that of the 175 biggest print publishers in the UK – including the vast majority of the women's and general interest magazines we see on the newsstand – nearly seven out of ten (68.5 per cent) have sites that do not display effectively on mobile screens.

If this is a ploy by publishers to make people go out and buy print editions, it's not working. A Google study found that 61 per cent of consumers said that if they didn't find what they were looking for right away on a mobile site, they'd simply move to another site.

In an attempt to cater for the burgeoning mobile audience, many of the UK's leading publications are focusing on content apps.

Solely focusing on an app strategy for mobile content distribution can mean that the publisher only effectively serves consumers with devices compatible with their appFiona Salmon, Vibrant Media
Whilst there are benefits to this approach – such as encouraging app users to pay for content – solely focusing on an app strategy for mobile content distribution can mean that the publisher only effectively serves consumers with devices compatible with their app.

To explode a common myth – not everyone has an iPhone. In fact, according to Orange, only 31 per cent of people in the UK do. If publishers only develop an app for iPhone devices, they disregard nearly seven out of ten UK mobile users.

An app-only mobile strategy also presents a barrier to content discovery by more casual mobile consumer who accesses content through search engines and social media shares.

Although Compuware found that 85 per cent of consumers prefer apps to mobile sites, the reasons for this preference – convenience (55 per cent), quickness (48 per cent) and ease of browsing (40 per cent) – indicate that users would feel less affiliation to apps if sites on mobile simply worked better.

Ensuring editorial copy renders effectively for smartphones and tablets is just one task for publishers. Handheld devices are now used so frequently to take and browse photographs that expectations for the display of images from publisher sites have been raised. Consumers are increasingly expecting a similar quality of image experience from editorial sites on their smartphones and tablets as they have browsing their own images.

Effective display of editorial images is particularly vital for women's magazine sites, as the quantity and quality of images is often much higher than other media titles. Yet the vast majority of women's magazine sites – 78 per cent of women's weekly titles and 62 per cent of women's monthly publications – do not have a digital site which displays effectively on handheld devices.

These publications have a wealth of rich, attractive, high quality editorial images to display, yet often render so badly on handheld devices the photographers' work is hardly done justice. More importantly, women on the move cannot effectively consume key content of the biggest female-focused publications in the UK via their mobile device.

Women's monthlies' digital sites performed better in the Vibrant research than women's weekly titles in terms of their performance for smartphones and tablets. This is perhaps because they only release a new issue twelve times a year, so wise women's monthly publishers have invested in a mobile site, as they have a greater concern with keeping their readership loyal between issues. Even so, less than four in ten (37.5 per cent) of women's monthlies have digital sites which render effectively on smartphone and tablet screens.

The ineffective display of video on mobile is another issue publishers must address, particularly as the Association of Online Publishers has identified a three-fold increase in the number of people viewing video via mobile devices year-on-year.

General interest magazines' sites – serving the mens' sectors and specialist interests, including some of the most well-known TV, film, technology and gadget websites – often offer rich, high quality video content on their websites. However, only 27 per cent of general monthly and 31 per cent of general weekly magazines' sites display effectively on smartphones and tablets.

General interest magazines' failure to provide an effective mobile medium for their consumers means a significant proportion of their readership are likely to be missing out on their high-quality video media, frustrating consumers and leaving them likely to look elsewhere.

Publishers offering free access to content need to serve ads to pay for their editorial, but they must respect the different needs of the mobile consumerFiona Salmon, Vibrant Media
Even those publications that do have specifically designed and optimised mobile sites can hamper the consumer experience of editorial by displaying desktop designed adverts that aren't appropriate for handheld devices.

Publishers offering free access to content need to serve ads to pay for their editorial, but they must respect the different needs of the mobile consumer. Ads on mobile need to be much nimbler, working with the small format display, respecting the consumer, responding to the consumer's device and enhancing rather than compromising the consumer's experience.

It's an issue Chris Ellis, Trinity Mirror's Digital MD, seems to recognise. Quoted at the Press Gazette's NewsOnTheMove conference, he called for "more native ad formats for mobile phones".

At present, adverts on handheld devices often appear as huge and interruptive, or with ad creative that's so small, it's almost invisible. Worse still, ads are often clicked by mistake, creating a negative digital experience for mobile consumers – which is often fatal for publishers, as frustrated readers simply opt to exit the page.

As has happened in the past, the editorial industry will likely learn lessons from the advertising industry's innovations as regards the presentation of information.

The marketing industry is already working device responsive digital ad formats. New technology is launching which automatically displays the optimum format of ad for the user's device regardless of the screen size and the content environment that hosts the ad.

Consumers can then control their experiences of ads with the typical actions and gestures they expect of their particular digital devices – whether that's screen rotations on handheld devices, finger-swipes and taps on tablets, thumb-taps and scrolls on smartphones, or mouse clicks on desktops.

When publishers design their sites to be responsive to the multiplicity of consumers' devices, consuming editorial on mobile will be less of a fiddle.

Fiona Salmon Specialising in strategic publisher partnerships, Fiona has spent 10 years at a number of blue chip publishers including News International, Trinity Mirror and Bauer, giving her key insight into publishers' wants and needs. Fiona and her team support and develop Vibrant Media's near 7,000 strong publisher network to provide in-content ads and display advertising services across the UK, EMEA and APAC

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