This Friday at the Block by Block Community News Summit, I'll be giving a talk on how community news publishers can earn money in mobile media.
The good news is, there's much that you can do right now to position your news outlet well for mobile revenue streams. The bad news is, the actual amount of money you're likely to earn from mobile in the short term is slim.
Still there's a very good reason to get started with mobile now, even though you'll have to wait a bit for the serious money to follow: You want to keep having an audience, right?...
This week, Pew Internet noted that currently 2/3 of American mobile users aged 18-29 own a smartphone -- as do nearly half of all adult U.S. mobile users. Most news outlets work hard to engage younger audiences, as an investment to build their business in the long run. It also doesn't hurt that younger audiences are especially prized by advertisers.
Resources for this talk: my CommunityMobile Tumblr
While rich media iPad ads look really cool and big national brands spend huge sums of money on them, smartphones are the biggest and most lucrative market for local mobile advertising. Smartphones get far more local eyeballs and time than tablets do. Also smartphone users tend to be more action-oriented, especially for local stuff.
If your community news site is not very mobile friendly (for users and advertisers) by the time we hit that tipping point, your potential audience will probably turn elsewhere.
It's rather like when people started turning to the internet to get all kinds of information, interaction and entertainment: they expected their news to be there, too. Newspapers that persisted in making decisions about their infrastructure, business model, and practices based on the belief that people should keep buying print newspapers because they always had -- or because print was just "better" -- were in for a very rude awakening.
I realize it's a stretch for most community publishers to invest the time, effort, and probably some money needed to make their websites mobile friendly -- especially if that won't make them much money right this minute. But this is a matter of ensuring future access to your audience. It's also a great opportunity to get ahead of your competition, and to gain loyalty from more local advertisers.
So on Friday I'll cover how mobile advertising works, and where I think the opportunities are for community publishers.
There are indeed revenue-generating opportunities -- but not if all you want to do is blindly serve network ads, or present to smartphone users ads designed for a computer screen that don't even link to a mobile-friendly destination (which is effectively anti-advertising to mobile users).
As it currently exists, most of the mobile ad market (including the local mobile ad market, and especially most ad networks) is not set up with community news publishers in mind. (Although I wish it was, and it could be.) So far most of the the mobile ad market has shown more revenue potential than performance. And anyway, community publishers are an edge case in this space, so we need to make our own opportunities.
I will outline a strategy that I believe can work -- and earn community publishers more revenue than simply filling ad space with banners. Here are the main points:
STRATEGY: Sell mobile advertising guidance and services, not just ad space
1. Make your news site mobile-friendly. Implement a mobile theme or (much better) responsive design.
Include top and middle/bottom standard mobile banner ad slots, which conform to the new MMA Universal Mobile Ad Package standard ad sizes. (Free registration required to get that crucial document.)
If you use an ad server (or are considering using one -- but it's not strictly necessary), investigate its mobile options. Several -- including OpenX and DoubleClick -- have pretty good mobile ad-serving options.
2. Become a white label reseller/affiliate of mobile landing page builder tools. Examples include MobiFriendly and Landr.co. Using these tools to create a mobile website for a local advertiser is mostly filling out a form, uploading some images, and knowing what mobile users want. It's definitely not very technical or design intensive.
To sign up as a reseller/affiliate you usually must pay an up-front fee. From there the platform assesses a monthly fee for each client site you create and host there. So if you build a mobile site for a local accountant, you'd charge them a fee up front to build the site and then to host and update it, to cover your costs.
This landing page will become the destination of mobile ads that your client runs on your site -- or anywhere, for that matter! Because in addition to the base fee for site creation/hosting, you could charge them for performance "conversions" that directly build their business: walk-ins or appointments, phone calls from potential customers, e-mail signups, event registrations, etc. Those are the metrics that really matter to local businesses and organizations, not ad impressions.
So if they want to run ads elsewhere which link to that mobile site you build for them, that's better for both of you. You just build the mobile site and set up metrics to easily track conversion points, and send a monthly bill for services and performance.
3. Help your advertisers create attractive, effective mobile-friendly banner ads. Often local advertisers have no clue about what a good mobile banner ad looks like, nor do they have the capability or inclination to supply this creative. Don't let this be a barrier.
Good mobile banner ads (whether for apps or the mobile web) are easily legible at a small size and include a distinct relevant call to action.
So far I haven't found good online tools or platforms for drag-and-drop mobile banner ad building (there should be!), but this is a very simple project that can be done with Adobe InDesign or similar software. You can set up templates to start from, and customize as needed. You might offer to throw in the first ad creative for free with a mobile landing page.
4.Fill your unused ad inventory with network ads, if you run an ad server. Xad and YP seem to be the best networks for local mobile banner ads, since they offer a fair level of geotargeting capability, according to the MobiThinking guide to mobile ad networks.
...This strategy is just my best guess for community news publishers, based on what I've learned about how the mobile ad market works. You could try testing it with your existing web advertisers, fine-tune your process, and then roll it out as a regular offering.
After all, since you absolutely need to go mobile just to keep up with your audience, you might as well adjust your operations to earn revenue from that shift.