Publishers should be mobile about mobile

<p>The concept of books on mobile phones divides publishers. To some, the book is sacrosanct and to sell content by great authors on something as pedestrian as a mobile phone is to undermine centuries of tradition. Others, however, take a more pragmatic view, recognising that any new channel should be seen as a valuable opportunity to reach readers and expand their distribution.<br />
<br />
There is no doubt that mobile poses both challenges and opportunities to publishers. In recent years, the mobile phone has transcended its original purpose &ndash; to make calls &ndash; and now sees itself as the next TV viewer, music download service, marketing channel and even bank of the future. Such a multi-faceted device is also ideal for distributing written content, including books. The beauty of the mobile phone is that everyone carries one all the time and there is an existing billing mechanism in place which could allow publishers to charge for content.<br />
<br />
But there are big logistical challenges with distributing book content on mobile. First, there are hundreds of devices, and any application must be reformatted to work on every one of them. The technology moves quickly, which means that an investment made today could become outdated within six months. This is a rather different proposition to the book, which has remained essentially the same for centuries. For many publishers, making the step from being focused on printed content to bits and bytes is a big cultural step, and they may feel that they do not have the skills in place to make the leap.<br />
<br />
Nevertheless, publishers are clearly excited by the prospect of mobile and the industry seems to be focusing on the iPhone as the next big publishing phenomenon. The hope is that, in the same way that the iPod created a market for digital music, the iPhone will create a market for mobile books.<br />
<br />
Already, there are some good early stage book products out there, such as Stanza and Iceberg. But for many publishers, creating an iPhone app is an expensive proposition and one that is far from their core competency. The iPhone business model remains in its infancy and, while there are millions of new apps waiting in the wings of Apple&rsquo;s approval process, there is no tried and tested route to market and a great deal of inherent cost and risk. Don&rsquo;t forget as well that, despite all the hype, only 1% of us own an iPhone.<br />
<br />
While iPhone apps are undoubtedly an important new distribution channel, I believe that there are cheaper, less risky but just as effective ways of dipping your toes in the mobile market. How about putting your books on a mobile bookstore, seeing how they sell and gathering data and building your mobile plans from there? The biggest mobile store of the moment is GoSpoken, which runs both an audio and text service.<br />
<br />
If you are looking for audio on mobile then Audible is a great option. The business model will be based around giving the mobile company a slug of around 30% for billing and then a revenue share on the remainder of the income &ndash; but don&rsquo;t forget your sales are also subject to VAT.<br />
<br />
These are great ways to explore the mobile market, but for now it pays to keep your expectations fairly low. This is a pretty immature market, and there is a reason why GoSpoken are the only mobile bookstore out there.<br />
<br />
Nevertheless, this should not stop you carrying out low-cost, low-risk experiments in the mobile download market. It might not transform the fortunes of your company overnight, but there is no question that this will be an important channel for the future, so it will pay in the long term to start developing capabilities and experience now.</p>