atavist3aMobile content is an important emerging marketplace, but Apple and Google, the companies who make the most commonly-used mobile devices, can’t seem to agree on exactly how that content should be consumed. At least, that’s what the New York Times says, in an article discussing the way publishers and web sites frequently end up caught in the middle.

The different perspectives the companies have on the mobile web makes sense, given their pedigrees. Hardware-maker Apple thinks that apps are the way to go, whereas Internet search company Google is more in favor of the mobile web. And that’s where publishers have a problem:

The competing strategies have made it particularly tough for publishers, which straddle apps and the web more than most mobile categories. That is because publishers tend to use apps to cater to the most loyal users and use the web to be found by new readers. As a result, many have invested lots of time and money on a website and an app, which is a huge burden for small publishers that cannot afford a large technology staff.

The article discusses The Atavist, which announced last month it would close down its dedicated app version in favor of publishing exclusively via the web. It also talks with other publishers, such as Ann Kjellberg of poetry and prose journal Little Star, which are still trying to straddle the line.

One thing I’m surprised the article doesn’t cover is the middle ground—aggregation apps like Flipboard or Zite, read-it-later apps like Instapaper, or RSS readers, which are still going strong today, that let people create their own personalized digital magazines. Most of the news sources I go through for TeleRead, I read neither in their own apps nor on the mobile web; I read them from within Feedly on my PC, or Press on my phone or tablet. But maybe the average person doesn’t need that kind of organization in their reading.

Either way, instead of getting easier as the mobile web becomes more capable, mobile content consumption is turning into more of a challenge. It will be interesting to see how content companies adapt as time goes on.


  1. One difficulty publishers face is that books aren’t like cars. People often buy cars based on who makes them: Ford, Toyota or whoever. Outside a few specialized areas, almost no one buys books based on who publishes them. That makes the distinction between apps and websites irrelevant. Readers see no reason to use a HarperCollin’s app or website because there’s no buyer loyalty.

    Author-based websites work in some cases, at least with popular authors. But most authors don’t create books fast enough to generate much traffic. Genre-based websites would (and do) work, but to attract a following, they need to cover numerous publishers. They won’t serve that well as a marketing mechanism or only one.

    What publishers need are ‘if you like that, you may like this’ marketing schemes based on prior sales. But to do that, they need information from retails sales. Amazon controls most of that data and is likely to allow them to use it only in pay to play schemes from which it profits.


    About the only path open to publishers to get contact information is offering material online that adds value to the books that readers have already purchased and can be mentioned inside the book. Getting readers there offers some marketing opportunities and some situations where they might agree to be put on a mailing list. That added value includes interviews with an author, additional background information about the book, and perhaps free short stories by an author as a prelude to later books. I often wish Tolkien’s apparently dull-witted publishers in the UK and US had enough sense to encourage him to write a series of short stories about hobbits.

    Among the reasons I oppose the on-going subservience of the courts to Google’s scan and search without permission schemes is that those offer an opportunity for publishers. Buy Game of Thrones books, and the publisher will offer you a word search and perhaps an index of its contents at its website. That helps the publisher and author and is likely to be done far better than Google would ever do.


    I fully agree with you that RSS readers and read-later apps are marvelous ways for users to manage their flow of information in and out. I use Feedly (webpage) to guide what I read and Instapaper (app) to read and store for later use.

    But I’m not sure either sheds light that would benefit book publishers. Their marketing agenda used to be to do enough advertising to get bookstores to stock their books and depend on potential customers seeing and buying that book in a bookstore. That marketing model is fading in importance.


    I do suspect the Book of the Month Club model I saw in my fifties-to-sixties youth might work. Publishers used it back then to reach potential customers across wide sectors of America that didn’t have bookstores. That scheme was a bit clumsy. If you didn’t return a card, you got their often cheaply printed book of the month, like it or not, but at a hefty discount off retail and without having to drive 50 miles to a big-city bookstore.

    That might be adapted to today’s digital market using email, a webpage, or an ereader app for the replies. People could choose none, any, or all of a month’s selection under a payment scheme that would encourage reading without forcing it and store the book for later re-reading.

    The key would be for the club to come up with ways to sell cheaper than Amazon to attract a following and to have genres so people wouldn’t be wading through 100 ebooks looking for one they like. And I suspect that, like that long-ago Book of the Month Club, it’d need to span multiple publishers to succeed. That said, it would allow publishers willing to cut their prices a bit to sell books independent of Amazon and to have an alternate marketing scheme that they could influence.


    Years ago, when I rambled about Europe and the Middle East, I sometimes fell into situations where public transport wasn’t working very well. I such situations, I tried every approach I could imagine to keep moving. Moving at all, I figured, was better than sitting still. Book publishers need to adopt a similar policy. Any sort of marketing at all is better than being dependent on Amazon. Keep trying until something works.

    • I’m not sure where you got the idea I was talking about books. Books don’t have a web presence to be an alternative to reading in an app. This was strictly about web based publications, and book publishers don’t come into it. E-reading is about more than just reading books.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail