« The Best American Series | Home | Magazine Content at the Movies? »

Writing for Mobile Readers

Posted on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:47 PM

How are other editors approaching mobile strategy?

By William Dunkerley

With the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets, we wondered what editors are doing about writing or repurposing content for audiences on the go. So we surveyed a cross section of editors to find out. We asked whether they are employing any kind of different editorial approach, or if they have plans to do so in the future.

Quite a few publications are already producing mobile editions. They tend to be graphically simplified replicas of the original content, be that for print or online. The existence of mobile editions shows an acknowledgment that mobile reading is different from more traditional forms. But what about the text? Are editors handling that differently as well? Here's what we found:

As results started to come in, the first thing that struck us is how many publications don't even have mobile readers in their sights. Examples include:

--We don't currently offer content for mobile users and have no imminent plans to do so.

--I don't do anything differently for mobile right now and have no plans to do so.

--We don't really employ a different editorial approach for content written or repurposed for mobile users.

--I use the same editorial approach for all users.

Clearly, going mobile is not for everyone. Some subject matter and some audiences may not be well suited for mobile.

One editor explained,

--"We are a B2B magazine that does not offer content for mobile users, and have no plans to do so. My former colleague at another B2B publication told me the same thing concerning his publication. A production manager I know at a major consumer magazine informed me that that magazine used to have an app (with, I believe, both re-purposed and original content), but it was discontinued. He left that magazine to join another one with an app, as he felt that not having an app was an unhealthy thing for a magazine." --Ava Caridad, editor, Spray Technology & Marketing

Another group of respondents expects to do something with mobile in the future:

--"At present, we do not take a different approach to material for mobile users. This is currently handled as an automated process by a third party. We are keenly aware of this issue, however, and our company is looking at other ways to provide mobile content. Nothing to report yet." --Steve Minter, executive editor, IndustryWeek

--"While we don't offer content exclusively for mobile users, we may in the not-too-distant future." --Timothy Rhys, editor, MovieMaker Magazine

--"At this point we don't offer content for mobile users. We have recently launched a digital edition (May 2012) and do plan to create an app for iPad and iPhone within the next 12 to 18 months." --Tricia Bisoux, co-editor, BizEd magazine

--"I would like to produce mobile content, but we don't have the IT staff to break our content into chunks for delivery. If we did, I would approach the writing and editing differently, though I'm not sure how different it would be." --Bryant Duhon, editor, AIIM Community

--"We are launching an app in April, but it will be the same content as in print and online -- just in a new format." --Sue Silver, editor-in-chief, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

--"We currently do not offer mobile-specific content for any of our 40-plus B2B brands. Our newest sites are built to be mobile-friendly (Apple/Android), and we are looking at abridged mobile content for a few sites that get a high volume of mobile traffic. But the hurdle is editorial workload. Currently we post news items or Web exclusives, create e-newsletters weekly or semi-weekly, and use social media (Facebook/Twitter). Add to that video and of course magazines, and the odd event or special project, and our editors are busy folks." --Scott Jamieson, editorial director, Annex Business Media

--"To be honest, we're in the process of reworking our editorial workflows to better serve digital readers, with mobile users at top of mind. We've traditionally been a magazine publisher, so much of our content has been created and designed for print delivery. We publish to the Web too, and like most, we see our best opportunity for growth in that area.

"Along the way, we've learned that the long-form articles we publish in print just aren't a good size for digital readers. That means we've found it necessary to reconfigure by starting our editorial process with digital readers in mind and redesigning our print products to work with shorter, more focused content that first appears online.

"What's in the works for us is a focus on making our content usable on any screen from a design perspective. From there, we can begin to address the specific needs of mobile users, or the creation of content especially for mobile. My take is that most people's Web use is now so colored by the use of task-oriented mobile devices that desktop and mobile readers don't really look that different in how they access and use content." --Matt Neznanski, editor-in-chief, brass Media Inc.

So should you be handling content for mobile use differently? The answer is probably yes. But exactly what to do differently may not be so certain. We're in the early stages of mobile content consumption. It is still uncertain what and how much content mobile users are really interested in consuming.

Some research has indicated that the small screens of mobile devices severely limit reading comprehension. One finding asserts, "Users can see less at any given time. Thus users must rely on their highly fallible memory when they are trying to understand anything that's not fully explained within the viewable space. Less context equals less understanding."

That's something for editors to keep in mind. It's also worth keeping in mind that there are no time-tested answers yet. We need to employ agility in our evolving editorial approaches to mobile content.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

Add your comment.


"I subscribe to a few weekly magazines on my iPad. It wasn't an easy task, I must admit, to figure out initially how to operate each of the apps. They all are organized differently, to say the least. Why on earth do I turn pages of magazine A from left to right, and magazine B from top to bottom? Some have a thesaurus, but not all. And zooming? Why does zoom sometimes work, and sometimes doesn't? And if it does, I've got to know for each different app, how to zoom. You'd think that zooming is zooming, wherever you want to do it. Think again!

"These are problems I encounter as a reader. It's even more complex when as publishers we contemplate how to design apps for our publications. We've got to be sure they are convenient and easy to use, and that they not just look flashy." --Sergey Panasenko, Moscow, Russia

« The Best American Series | Top | Magazine Content at the Movies? »