7 Questions Small Publishers Can Ask To Frame Thinking About App Development

It’s a no-brainer that publishers today have to be prepared to embrace tablets and other mobile device as key channels through people are going to choose to consume content, now in significant numbers and in the near future, in vast numbers. But let’s say, for the sake of speculation, that you’re not the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. You’re working on a different scale in terms of both investment resources and potential customer base. Custom app development for the iPad is expensive (as could be the licensing fees for a custom publishing app like the one the New York Times will be offering), and the number of customers with iPads in your market, or very large advertisers in your market who may be able to sponsor the app, may not be enough to give you a return on investment in development costs. What other options do you have?

“Why bother with the expense of developing an iPad app if it provides an excellent Web experience right out of the box?” asks Mark Toner in an introduction to an August NAA paper on app versus Web decisions for newspaper publishers.

This is one of the key questions that confronts publishers this year.  An easy answer to might be money. In surveys, tablet device consumers have indicated they’d be willing to pay for content specifically formatted for their device. How specific does that formatting have to be to trigger that reach for the wallet?

  • Could it be a Web site that is tuned to look good both on the Web or on a tablet?
  • Or a Web-based app, which wouldn’t look great on a desktop or laptop screen but would look perfect on a tablet and take advantage of the touchscreen and rotation from vertical to horizontal aspect a tablet allows? jQuery and other scripting libraries that are being developed specifically for touch screen interfaces make this very do-able for in-house Web development teams.
  • Or a native Web app that accesses all the functions the tablet device has to offer?

But again, these are early days, and with changes happening fast and furious in the market (look at the drastic price swings for ebook readers for example), no one answer is going to be right for every media company. But there will be some universality in terms of the questions small companies have to ask:

Here are seven interesting questions to consider when developing a mobile device strategy:

  1. What do you want your app to do content or utility wise?
  2. What do you want it to do business wise? (Make money directly via sales of the app? Sell ads/sponsorships into it? Act as a marketing vehicle? Sell something else, such as subscriptions to another product?)
  3. Are the template-driven solutions provided by vendors sufficient to your needs? How custom does your app need to be?
  4. Do you have the programming talent in house to develop a native app?
  5. If you go with a native app, how does cost of development, then the cut that goes to the iTunes app store, affect the profit margin you’re looking for?
  6. If you build a Web app, do you have a system in place on your existing Web system that would allow you to require a subscription to access it?
  7. Do you have the resources to create or enhance content especially for the app, or will its primary selling point be its tablet-friendly formatting?

What are some others?

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