Brij Singh's Blog

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Why Publishers Need to Think Distribution and Differentiation

time and again we overestimate the short-term and underestimate the long-term

Native app versus mobile web debate is on. Lot of people have written about it and considering the high stakes involved in mobile market debate is hardly objective.

Instead of this debate being about distribution and experience it invariably gets dragged down into platform positioning. Right way to frame this debate is to anchor it around distribution, user experience and economics. I think that is what is missing from Jason Pontin’s otherwise thoughtful piece.

Decision to publish native apps should be about which markets and distribution channels you want your business to participate in. And whether you have sufficient budget and patience to wait out. Back in dotcom days, pretty much all retailers had poor ROI on their initial web development investments. Companies like Razorfish used to charge quarter million dollars to design and develop fancy websites. We all witnessed biggest wealth transfer of our time. Some justified some not. Lot of bad blood and bad memories. Not to the same extent but similar wealth and value transfer is happening right in front of our eyes in mobile space. We are also witnessing big budget failures. Just like what happened after dotcom days, in this cycle also you will witness new winners. By not participating in the app economy, publishers run the risk of shutting themselves out of lot of emerging opportunities.

Let’s take the case of distribution. 4 out of 5 minutes are now going into mobile apps. Let’s see what are the top apps on two leading platforms –

iTunes and Google Play are number 1 app on Apple and Android store respectively. Guess what – probability of millions of users finding Financial Times or Technology Review on these apps is zero. These publishers have premium brands and they refused to participate in this dynamic – though chaotic – discovery mechanism.

Personally I want publishers to win on app stores. They have great content which deserves better distribution and discovery. At the same time I know the dynamics of some of these organizations. They are letting new age media property not only gain distribution power but slowly get into content creation business as well. This is how we get our news and content now –

Surprised? Time and again traditional businesses have failed to adapt quickly and ended up giving advantage to new upstarts.

In the end businesses which can experiment faster and cheaper to provide better experience to end users will win. And I am not sure why shutting yourself out of the biggest and most dynamic distribution channel of our time is the right way to go.