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‘Growing audiences but diminishing returns’: publishers grapple with mobile

Harris: Mobile means "now you have less to sell"

Harris: Mobile means “now you have less to sell”

The head of digital for Condé Nast in the UK, one of the world’s most advanced digital markets, has admitted the publisher’s move to focus its GQ magazine product on mobile saw it lose ad revenues, despite growing audience figures.

Wil Harris told the International News Media Association (INMA) congress in London: “Mobile was the number one platform our audience was on so it was going to be the number one thing we had to develop.”

But when pressed on the commercial realities of such a focus by congress moderator Juan Senor, Harris admitted the company had lost income from desktop display ads and the lucrative “takeover” of a web home page.

Senor, a partner at Media Consulting Group, suggested to a panel on smartphone strategies that “you get growing audiences but diminishing returns” from a mobile first approach.

“The display ad space you had on desktop is gone so now you have less to sell, less space,” he said.

Harris acknowledged the problem and revealed that revenue per mobile page was worth “two thirds to three quarters of a desktop page”.

Despite the sizeable disparity of between 25% and 33%, Harris said there were positives.

“If there is one upside it’s that mobile is an inherently personal device and if you are able to tap into that personalisation and know more about your customer you will be able to charge advertisers more to access the right people,” he said.

“If you want to talk to a specific segment of customers then you can charge a premium for that.”

Harris told the congress that Condé Nast was trying to educate advertisers that a “splashy” traditional banner ad, despite its perceived impact, was not all it was cracked up to be.

The loading of such an ad can delay the loading of the page and lose readers in the process, he said.

“What we are trying to educate our advertisers about is that when it comes to impact, really the measure of impact is engagement,” Harris said.

“We found that for every half a second of load time delay on a mobile phone you lose about 10% of your audience. When we have a big flashy experience…. it adds an incredible amount of delay to the site loading and that kills off the readership.”

Earlier in the discussion, Harris said the publisher was focused on easing the “pain” of publishing stories, something felt in particular by “traditional print journalists”.

“That is the barrier,” he said. ‘It’s not that they don’t want to write online it’s just that….you are trying to tell these journalists ‘now you have to learn this entire production skill set’ [of publishing a story online] and it’s hard.

“So we want to automate that process as much as possible. In our previous system it took the average journalist between 45 minutes and an hour to get a finished story live. We have managed to get that down to around 10 to 12 minutes.”

Steve Jones in London

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