What We Talk about When We Talk about Mobile

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

mobile social media digital content publishersWhat exactly do we mean when we talk about mobile strategies for digital publishers? There’s one quick and easy answer. It involves posting regularly to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and their brethren so that people with smartphones can follow your publicity trail.

True enough. But as I moved deeper into research on my report on mobile strategies I realized that social media was just part of the challenge.

For publishers, mobile is also a content play, a mode of configuring your ebooks (and less frequently, your apps) to make sure they’re working optimally on all mobile devices, from smartphones through phablets, tablets of all screen sizes and notebook PCs—and then to make sure that the same is true whether on an Apple-built device or any of the myriad that run Android’s operating system, most prominently Samsung, with its full range of phones and tablets.

Most publishers already intuitively grasp this dizzying array of hardware- and platform-based variables when it comes to delivering mobile content, but few have sorted out the most effective means of doing so at every level of their organizations.

One reason is that those variables continue to change and multiply. What about Amazon’s tablets, for instance, (or, eek, its Fire Phone—the one rated 2.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon’s own site)? They’re not great for apps, but they’re excellent for ebooks. What about Windows phones and tablets? Nope: roughly a 3% marketshare. And Blackberry? What’s that?

Then there are formats to consider. At a minimum you’ll need each title packaged as EPUB2 and Mobi. If there are any enhanced features you’ll want EPUB3 and KF8. If the book has extensive illustrations you’ll likely require a fixed-format file plus a PDF. Educational books have their own sidetrack, down the Apple iBooks trail, or towards the just announced Kindle Textbook Creator. Got it?

In formatting the book you’ll try not to make the mistake Penguin just made in the ebook edition of this week’s No. 1 best-seller in both ebook and hardcover, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The publisher left the copyright page stuck at the front of the ebook, even though best practices call for moving credits to the end of an ebook; this has been the standard for several years now.

Okay, you’ve wrestled your content into submission. It’s time to get the word out to the smartphone crowd. They’re the toughest group to reach: small screens, reading while walking, decidedly distractible. But they love social media.

Few publishers realize that Facebook is now a mobile company. Nearly 75% of its daily users arrive from mobile, over 550 million each day. Instagram is a pure mobile play; just try uploading a photo from your laptop! And it’s now in the No. 1 slot for teenagers. Adults, however, prefer LinkedIn to Twitter.

For all too many publishers, keeping up with social media is like tracking the onslaught of an invading army. They’re coming, from all sides, while you try to defend a small town behind thin walls. Many publishers would argue that while they aren’t raising white flags anytime soon, they’re struggling to connect meaningfully with the 550 million eyeballs flooding social channels day in and day out.

In the end, I call it an even split for mobile content and social media; each grab about 50% of the pie when it comes to deciding what mobile means on a practical level for publishers. The takeaway, at any rate, is that you can’t play one at the expense of the other.

Much more difficult, of course, is putting that understanding into practice. Stay tuned to Digital Book World as I continue to explore the idiosyncrasies and challenges the mobile market presents digital publishers today and evaluate tactics for facing them. And to learn more in the meantime, check out my recently published Mobile Strategies for Digital Publishing: A Practical Guide to the Evolving Landscape.

3 thoughts on “What We Talk about When We Talk about Mobile

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Thanks for an excellent summary of the technical issues related to publishing. You failed to mention one quite important issue though—Amazon’s refusal to play well with others. If major corporations were classified by their personality types, Amazon would be categorized as having Asperger syndrome, defined thusly on Wikipedia:

    \As a pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language. Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis.\

    The best tool for serious book publishing is clearly InDesign. It’s incredibly powerful for laying out attractive books. And recent upgrades offer powerful export capabilities. Once I finish laying out the print version, I can export both reflowable EPUB3 (for smartphones) and a fixed-layout EPUB3 (for tablets) in a couple of minutes—literally. And the fixed layout version will look identical to the print version, saving many frustrating hours of labor.

    But where does Amazon sit in that workflow? Sulking on the playground like the spoiled little rich kid who thinks that everyone has to play by his rules. I can send that reflowable EPUB3 to Amazon and it’ll be converted into Mobi/KF8. That is tolerable, although the conversion raises issues. But what about fixed layout, particularly since I’m creating a series of nursing textbooks? Ah there, as a Kindle representative told me, I’ll need to spend untold thousands hiring some third party company that knows the hidden secrets of Amazon’s proprietary fixed layout format.

    That or more recently go through the enormous hassle of importing and laying out ebooks in one of the several, limited value, Amazon-only apps, each good only for Amazon and for a particular kind of book: children, comics or textbooks. Sorry, I feel like screaming in Jeff Bezos’s face, but I don’t work for Amazon. The company isn’t paying me to create ebooks for their narrow world. All the extra labor Amazon demands costs me time and money.

    Keep in mind how utterly rotten that is. You can drive from Amazon’s global headquarters on Seattle’s South Lake Union to where Adobe develops InDesign on Seattle’s Montlake Cut in about ten minutes. Collaborating would be quite easy. Apple in far-distant Cupertino, California had no problem working together with Adobe to give InDesign those top-notch EPUB export capabilities for a format that’s publicly defined. Amazon, that spoiled and sulking rich little kid with the corporate personality disorder, has refused to help Adobe with a format that only Amazon understands.

    The bad news for Amazon is that InDesign’s ability to export high-quality EPUB has flipped the workflow dynamics for most major publishers. In the past, when digital versions had to be created almost by hand by specialists, the Kindle version would come first. Amazon, after all dominated the ebook market. Often that meant that not enough money was left over to create digital versions for everyone else or at least that those versions were delayed, giving Amazon a market advantage.

    Not so anymore. Now, once the print version of a book is created with InDesign, the digital versions for almost everyone but Amazon are just a quick trip to the File-Export menu away. It’s the Kindle version that’s playing tail-end Charlie, to be created later and only if sales seem to justify the added expense.

    All that remains is for the other retailers to take full advantage of that by selling their ebooks in pairs—meaning that someone who buys an ebook gets the reflowable version to read on their smartphone also gets with that same purchase the fixed-layout version for their tablet. They’ll be able read on the go with their iPhone and at home read a more attractively laid-out version on their iPad. That’s especially important in the large textbook market that no one, as yet, dominates.

    Reply
  2. Thad McIlroy

    @ Michael W. Perry

    Thanks for the well-considered comment. RE: “You failed to mention one quite important issue though—Amazon’s refusal to play well with others” …I felt it was implicit by mentioning Mobi, KF8 and the new Kindle Textbook Creator. But explicit would have helped.

    I agree with you that “The best tool for serious book publishing is clearly Adobe InDesign.” Unfortunately its excellent features make it complex for the average casual user, and so it’s necessary to hire the talents of a pro (not that this is ever a bad idea, it just adds to the cost). That pro must have the latest version of InDesign — the last two I worked with didn’t have it, so I needed to bring additional experts into the loop. Still, in concept it’s a great step forward, and yes, “It’s the Kindle version that’s playing tail-end Charlie, to be created later…”

    Where I disagree is the notion that “only if sales seem to justify the added expense.” I can’t imagine an instance where you wouldn’t want to publish to Amazon. As I note in my Mobile report “estimates place Amazon at 65% of the U.S. (ebook) market and 79% in the UK.”

    Reply
  3. Robert

    Whether you love or hate Amazon, it does sell more books than all other channels combined. I can’t imagine anyone making a decision to leave them out of the distribution loop.

    Reply

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