There’s been a lot written about the death of the printed newspaper and magazine. In fact, there are numerous blogs dedicated to watching the decline. I’m personally torn – I am both an avid reader and a lover of technology, so it’s hard for me to say that I lie in one camp over another.
Peter Preston, former editor of The Guardian has been famously quoted as saying that The London Times, The Telegraph and The Observer are liable to close within 10 years due to ad decline. For every dollar they take in they lose 10. Similarly, Steve Ballmer predicted in 2008 that print media would be dead in just 10 years.
With both sides predicting the demise it seems almost inevitable. Whether it is or not remains to be seen but what’s most interesting for me, about the whole thing, is what it can teach us, the application developers, about consumption and how best to tailor our offerings to this new way of consuming. Here’s what the demise of the newspaper has taught me as a former developer.
It’s paper that’s dying not the written word … or is it?
People have not fallen out of love with the written word they are just consuming it in a new way. People now have choices about what they consume and when that they never had before. For instance you no longer need an entire carriage to yourself on the train to read a broad sheet you can simply grab your iPad and open the app with the latest edition.
This is not only convenient but in many ways allows the user more choice, we as developers need to be aware of this when writing apps for the enterprise users want this level of choice; from application type to device brand. Obviously this trend can also be seen in the consumerisation of IT so developers ignore it at your peril!
In the early “noughties” we were promised a Utopia with no paper sadly like the hover boards in Back to the Future that never materialised. Instead of paper less offices we now have offices with less paper. This too is something we must consider when developing our applications. Users no longer print everything, many times we use applications instead of printing things like boarding passes and booking confirmations. The recent addition of Passbook to iOS 6 will only intensify this trend.
There will always be the exception
I say the printed is word is dying but sales of books have been steady, if not increasing, over the past few years especially when it comes to children’s books such as Harry Potter and more adult titles such as Fifty Shades of Grey.
To me this stresses the fact that there will always be an exception to every rule so while the vast majority if us may like to access applications via mobile there will always be users who prefer desktops or business processes which will remain more functional on the desktop. Therefore we must design applications which will run on any device whether that’s mobile, tablet or desktop.
Where will all the money come from?
Traditionally print media made its money from advertisement space but there is nothing to say that won’t continue to be true in the future and therefore there is nothing to stop us building advertisement space into our applications.
If I look at Babylon’s recent annual report they generated $56 million from goods sold, down 10% from the year before but a whopping $63 million from adverts up 123% from the year before. I know i for one have been voiced in advising our ISVs to consider including advert space in their applications to overcome the TCO of creating and supporting a mobile application. What’s good for Zuckerburg must surely be good for us?
Different modes of delivery are required within different contexts
I have said it before but I will happily say it again, context is King, what’s right for a packed train may not be right for the Sunday breakfast table and just as the regular The Times iPad subscriber will walk to the shops on a Sunday for a paper copy application users have different requirements in different contexts. What’s possible on a tablet may not be possible or desirable on a Smartphone and thus all applications must be built with this context in mind.
A further extension of this is the personalisation which mobility allows and which was never possible before, developers must embrace this need for data which is relevant to me when I require it. The media publishers like the development houses need to see themselves as channels but rather view themselves as item feeds. Rather than aiming to be You Tube and provide only videos they should aim to be Facebook providing data from any source in a way that’s relevant to the user.
Only the best is good enough
One thing that is very clear from the world of print media is that only the strong will survive. The moves toward mobility and new modes of consumption have meant that consumers are not only becoming more discerning but also more willing to walk away from the “big” brands. We as application developers need to understand that he who reigned supreme in one world may not be the same in another.
The leading print publication may not be the leading tablet publication. This offers both challenges and benefits for developers. The challenge is to make our applications the best they can possibly be. But the huge benefit is that the world of mobility is there for the taking and just because the enterprise app giants reign supreme on the desktop does not mean they will do so on the mobile device. The prize is there for the taking we just have to be good enough and brave enough to take it.
No one know what the future holds
Who would have guessed just 20 years ago that we would be debating the end of printed media. Even 10 years ago I would never have guessed that I could download entire novels from anywhere. But here we are and this to me just proves that none (or very few of us at least) know what the future holds. For us in development, this means we must either becomes psychics or develop our apps with the future in mind. Meaning we must develop applications which can run on any device now or future. In this world the ability to adapt can mean the ability to survive and thrive.