By Hannah Johnson and Thomas Minkus
BARCELONA: On February 15, the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Sony Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg predicted that in five years, there will be three billion new mobile broadband users, and by 2020, there will be 50 billion connected devices. According to the Congress Show Daily, smartphones represented 15.4% of the mobile market in 2009, up from 2.4% in 2008. Needless to say, the growth in mobile media consumption has been explosive and there are no signs of a slowdown.
If book publishers add one thing to their to-do lists this year, it should be to develop and execute a mobile content strategy to take advantage of this growth.
In the last couple years, the growing infrastructure for delivering mobile content (app stores, secure financial services, and mobile Web sites) combined with better device technology (clear displays, touch screens, and Internet connectivity) has created a robust mobile marketplace where content creators have an ever-expanding platform for reaching consumers.
Lessons from Langenscheidt
Hubert Haarmann, director of eBusiness for Langenscheidt (publisher of distinctive yellow language dictionaries), said that a special marketing push on any of its 400 mobile apps can result in thousands of downloads a day. With each app priced between 9.99 and 40 euros, this represents an important part of the dictionary publisher’s business.
“The printed books are still very popular and very important for us, but it’s necessary to have the content available on new platforms,” Haarmann explained. “We are learning quite a lot,” about mobile distribution. Selling mobile apps has created a new direct-to-consumer business for Langenscheidt, and they are now able to incorporate customer feedback into app improvements and future developments.
But what about publishers of long-form writing? Reference content is wonderfully suited for mobile screens, but reading a novel on your iPhone is a very different story, or so the classic argument goes.
New Displays Promise Better Reading
However, the future of mobile reading and its commercial success is becoming more tangible. Improved display technology is becoming standard on all new smartphones, including the new Samsung Wave and Windows 7 Phone, both of which debuted at the Mobile World Congress.
Also showcased at the Congress was a new display technology developed by Liquavista, in partnership with Texas Instruments, designed to bring a “totally new dimension to e-reading,” according to Eric Derckx, VP of Engineering at Liquavista.
This new display renders both color and black-and-white images without backlighting, and is capable of showing video. Derckx said it will be cheaper to manufacture than e-ink and possibly even LCD. One can easily imagine seeing such a display used in dual-screen devices and e-readers.
One App Store to Rule them All
In the rush to capitalize on this burgeoning market, handset makers and mobile carriers have established a fragmented retail market for mobile applications, with each company building their own app stores. For content creators, this means creating individual apps for each mobile platform, or else focusing their efforts on a single platform, such as the iPhone.
Mobile carriers recognize this as a problem and are launching a new initiative to try to unify the mobile app retail market. Twenty-four of the world’s largest mobile carriers announced at the Mobile World Congress that they will form a cross-platform app store called the Wholesale Application Community, which has the potential to reach three billion mobile users.
Carriers include Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Vodafone. The goal is to “establish a simple route to market for developers” and to provide customers with access to the widest range of apps available. No specific launch date was announced. E-book app developers still have a chance to get into this community from the beginning.
Although the Mobile World Congress focuses heavily on hardware and software innovations within the mobile sphere, it is clear that all this technology is there to enable better content delivery to users, whether that content is a video or an e-book. There is a growing need for high-quality mobile content, and with all the recent focus on digitizing the book publishing process, publishers can secure their slice of the mobile pie.
WATCH: Videos from the Mobile World Congress 2010
VISIT: The Wholesale Application Community online
BUY: Langenscheidt mobile applications
DISCUSS: Are phones more important than e-readers to the future of publishing?