Key Executives Mega Conference 2012

Small Papers Consider Mobile Opportunities

Photo by Daniel Schwen
Faced with growing pressure to enter the mobile space, small newspapers have a lot to mull over — including expenses, potential revenue streams and user relevance — before making their play, said executives speaking at the Key Executives Mega Conference.

To go mobile or not to go mobile? Is it even a question anymore?

Faced with growing pressure to enter the mobile space, small newspapers have a lot to mull over — including expenses, potential revenue streams and user relevance — before making their play, insiders said on Wednesday.

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L to r: Steve McDonald, Pittsburg Post-Gazette's, Patrick Scanlon, Ray Marcano and Sandy Martin

But whether it's a matter of developing optimized sites, smartphone apps or, even more daunting, tablet apps, attendees in San Antonio for the Key Executives Mega Conference, jointly presented by the Inland Press Association, Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and the Local Media Association, had reassurance that some mobile trails had already been blazed in smaller markets.

Sandy Martin, mobile director at Fort Bend, Ind.-based Schurz Communications, exhorted attendees at a panel on mobile prospects to consider developing apps that go beyond news. She pointed to an app that Schurz developed for its Danville, Ky., newspaper, the Advocate-Messenger that aggregates the galaxy of tweets around University of Kentucky basketball, including those coming from coaches, players, recruits and even the opposing teams on game day.

"It really got us thinking outside the box," she said of the app, which is monetized through display ads and has seen over 5,000 downloads among the more fervent Wildcat basketball fans in the six weeks since it launched.

Steve McDonald, digital sales manager for Spokane, Wash.’s The Spokesman Review, said that his paper has so far been the only media app holdout in his market, focusing on a mobile site instead. Having launched a year and a half ago, he said the site had 150 buys within its first year.

Brand Connections

The Spokesman Review's mobile site geolocates users and features "news nearby" and "deals nearby" features, the latter of which got an adrenaline shot when the company teamed with deals vendor Forkfly to expand its offerings, McDonald said.

"With mobile, we knew that location was important," he said, pointing to his platform's ability to serve up deals in real time, which customers have embraced. Currently, 99 advertisers are using the space, which allows them to post up to four deals at a time.

But what about tablets? Ray Marcano, senior manager of strategic initiatives for Cox Media Group in Dayton, Ohio, drew the biggest gasps from attendees when he told them what they could expect to shell out for a tablet app: Around $50,000.

Not surprisingly, Marcano said that companies need to ask themselves a number of internal questions before they seriously consider making a move in that direction. "Do people in your market want it?" he asked. "Do they even know what this is?"

There were equally fundamental issues to consider, Marcano added. Can companies' newsrooms support the app? Can they iterate? Do they have the in-house expertise to sufficiently differentiate the app for the form?

And the ultimate bottom line question: "Can you even sell it?"

If they can, Marcano softened the initial sticker shock by noting that replica tablet apps are available at considerably less frightening prices from vendors such as NewspaperDirect and Olive.

And there's another way to save money developing for mobile, he added: Hire good interns. "You've got students everywhere who are really tech savvy and can really help you push your mobile plans along," he said.


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