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Why Online Publishers Need to Catch Up in the Mobile Space

It’s no secret that the amount of time people spend online via mobile is on the rise. According to ComScore, 2014 saw mobile constituting 60% of time spent on digital, up from 53% in 2013. However, despite this, one part of the industry seems to be trailing behind – online publishers.

The New York Times has stated that although more than half of their digital audience comes from mobile, only 10% of their digital ad revenue is attributed to these readers. To me, that came as a bit of a surprise. The Times has always been at the forefront of digital innovation within its sector. So how can there be such a huge revenue gap?

The first thought that comes to mind when you hear a stat like that is to blame low ad spend or lack of revenue. However, with the projected estimate that a quarter of all ad spending in 2018 will be attributed to mobile – an amount that reaches $58 billion – this is hardly likely. The simple truth is that the majority of spends go to the big players, such as Facebook and YouTube.

There are a few more tangible reasons as to why media outlets are struggling to monetize their mobile audience:

  1. Screen size means that fewer ads can appear on a page compared to desktop, meaning that even if the rates were the same, you would obtain less revenue on mobile devices.
  2. Mobile ads are cheaper than desktop. This is partly because they are smaller but also because, relative to desktop and other digital channels, mobile advertising is still in its infancy, so agencies haven’t yet had time to experiment. After a slow start in adopting mobile advertising, publishers are now trying to catch up.

In my opinion, the question now is, how are publishers going to catch up? Yahoo has done a great job of re-designing their apps to create a modern look and easy user journey; however, the ad formats they allow are still antiquated. On the other hand, Mashable has consistently redeveloped and redesigned their site to be in line with best practices. This was evidenced by them ensuring their site was mobile optimized and responsive, and also by launching a mobile app.

While publishers should curate the kinds of ads that appear on their platforms, so as to maintain their credibility, coming up with innovative uses of the mobile space – outside of their own properties – is the way forward. In January, 10 media companies including CNN and Vice partnered with Snapchat for its ‘Discover’ feature. The mobile space is moving so quickly that publishers and brands shouldn’t be afraid to take a leap of faith. A lot of the opportunities available are uncharted territory – but it’s about having a great idea and the guts to execute it that will put your brand on the map.