Plotting a smooth course for the print-to-digital transition

The first years in the mobile phone area were really hard ones. Companies were cautious and skeptical in the development of mobile-optimised Web sites and portals. Early delivery approaches such as WAP 1.0 and i-mode were less than sexy. But the demand for mobile surfing was there, as mobile Internet usage grew four times faster than fixed-line Internet.

Most of that growth came in apps — iPhone apps, in particular. Apps are great for your publication, offer sensational features, and are just plain fun. At least, that was the assessment of most decision-makers, who invested a lot of money in apps rather than the development of mobile Web sites.

It was in this phase the iPad arrived. The touchscreen format of swipe and tap, as opposed to a keyboard, was familiar for publishing managers, who could lean back instead of forward as they developed more apps. After the initial euphoria, however, downloads and sales decreased, while the volume of iPad sales increased.

How could it be?

The situation reminds me of the games industry of the ’90s. How big did the offline board game and board game companies get when the first video games came on the market? They asked technicians to transfer the successful offline games to the TV screen. What works offline has to work digitally, of course! As we now know, there is no linear continuation of digital from analog. It is rather a leap in innovation, similar to that of the analog to digital clock.

We must apply this same knowledge to the transition from newspapers to mobile products such as mobile portals or apps. These arise from the online world, with all the special game rules. Starting with usability to loading to billing of content. Throw all these lessons of the past 10 to 15 years overboard, and we will again pay dearly.

A sham solution for a successful solution for newspapers and magazines is the tablet format, “e-paper,” or print-driven solutions like WoodWing. These are the same misinterpretations of the digital world that we saw in the board-gaming industry in the ’90s. The products are made by offline people who tried to transfer the existing offline mechanisms directly to the online area.

What will happen? The demand will continue to settle far below the market increase.

For smartphones and especially for tablets. it’s important to have Internet users — who think and act as digital natives and have background in online media — to develop print-independent products. Then we will achieve high sales figures with editorial content apps and generate the revenue we need for high-quality production.

Because in the digital world, the product is the best, most effective marketing tool. Have courage, and let the analog world know where it belongs!