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“Big is easy, small is hard”: Print is Mobile

3rd August 09

Author: Adam Glickman

Following our piece looking at journalism (a review of the transformational change at the Telegraph Media Group) and fiction (interview with Jeremy Ettinghausen, Digital Publisher at Penguin), our interest in the profound changes occurring in the publishing industry continues with this look at the opportunities in mobile.

We often talk about the future of mobile media and what it will all look like, but what about the future of the mobile media of the past? The notion of carrying around your reading as reams of inked paper might disappear, but the written word certainly won’t. So it seems a very natural progression for print publishers to move from paper to digital by simply reformatting for small screen mobile devices. But the considerations are vast. And more importantly, how much do people really want to use their phones as reading devices anyway?

We recently met a company called ScrollMotion, a New York-based iPhone app developer that is hard at work answering these questions. The company have been steadily creating a suite of new tools for traditional print media companies to better engage their readers via apps on mobile phones, and in the process, quietly making publishing deals with a wide range of top-notch publishers. Their growing client list is impressive and includes Conde Nast, Hearst, Time Inc., Tribune Company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Wiley.

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I must admit, I’ve been more skeptical than anyone about the longevity of a business built on a large-scale desire to read books and magazines on the mobile phone, but only five months in ScrollMotion has proven me wrong. The company is currently focused on the iPhone as it provides more avenues for interactive exploration than the top-selling Kindle or other readers on the market.  Their Iceberg Reader, which offers book publishers the ability to distribute content via the iPhone, has grown rapidly (and though they asked me not to repeat specific numbers, let’s just say they are very impressive).

Their reader software allows publishers to animate content in a way easiest described as a flipbook, allowing users much more personal interaction than video currently provides. And with the newly provided ability to accept third party advertising, Scroll Motion is now tooled to provide the means to design, distribute and monetize print content through mobile devices in ways that opens a number of new doors for old media.

I sat down with Josh Koppel, founder of ScrollMotion, and their design consultant, Josh Liberson (of Helicopter) in what I originally intended to be a discussion revolving around design, but which took a number of even more interesting turns …

BBH Labs: Tell us a bit about the specific needs Scroll Motion is filling within the market?

Koppel: The first need is that publishers are not quite technologists. If you look at why magazines on the web feel like not quite meaningful experiences, its because publishers do something great, they make words and pictures beautiful but haven’t in the past done a great job of making them live in a digital way. Digital books, the definition to me, has always been, “formatted high-resolution text.” And I feel that’s been a very limited definition. And (expanding the possibilities) is what we’ve been focused on.

I made one of the first PDF magazines in 1994 when I was in college, so I got a great taste for why that wasn’t a great solution for books and for magazines. Then I worked on creating the digital standard for music liner notes, and liner notes seemed like a way to play with that notion, it was the first time we needed a digital experience that was picture and lyrics and text that was formatted in a strange way, not in a routine way.

Liberson: Old media has been much maligned, its not old media, its old distribution channels. The question is how do you take this old media and make it new again and that’s what we’re helping people do. If you look at publishing as an industry, and I think this is why The New York Times stands out as an example, show me any other industry that doesn’t invest any money in R&D?

The moment were in right now is the makers of content are well behind the capabilities of the platforms. What we are setting out to do is help educate the makers of the world’s great high quality, high value editorial content into new modes of thinking. Magazines have been sitting on these incredible archives of content without any opportunity to do anything with them other than create a book, so whole new opportunities emerge.

Koppel: This stuff is our culture and if we are getting to a world where print is in a transitional moment, we have to actively build the platforms for this stuff to live. My feeling is that if we let the grownups do it we’ll end up in a world without cover art, end up in a world that is compromised cause it’s all about making the platform, not filling it. This isn’t about just converting paper to pixels; we want to make stuff that actually lives up to the content.

We’re trying to build the next set of tools for interaction with mobile content for kids books, for graphic novels, all these things we’re used to engaging with now but were trying to bring them to a small screen in a way that keeps the integrity of the content. It’s not a step down.

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Liberson: Magazines are the original but unrealized social network: audiences aligned around a sincere common interest. That kind of ability to unlock those relationships, create pathways to all the people that are engaging the same media and have common interests is very interesting and in a way those networks are going to become more valuable. What is the future of advertising in this space probably has a lot to do with harnessing this organic power that exists around tastes, a preference.

BBH Labs: We somewhat understand what the problems are, but I’m trying to get a better sense of the solutions, as you guys seems to be farther along in realizing them.

Koppel: It’s the genius of the app store. Everyone gave content away for free in the beginning of the internet because you had to. If you had to pay for content on top of the fact that you were (paying to) connect it never would have happened, but that mindset overtook the industry to a place that you have newspapers going out of business and magazines struggling. So the point is that Apple saw that need too, saw an opportunity to finally create micro-transactions.

BBH Labs: How’s business going?

Koppel: Great. Were selling lots and lots of books. The fact we’ve done all these deals with these publishers, and the amount of content that’s coming to this space really means that people will be engaging in this new dialogue, they will be engaging in these tools, the next generation of creative people will get to play in this space. There is an opportunity to engage content wherever you are and whenever you want.

BBH Labs: But how will the overall experience change? I mean, young people’s language and communication habits are changing greatly. Emoticons, Twitter? Do people even want to read?

Liberson: Right now were in chapter one. Everything is being outputted as a list. It’s the simplest visual metaphor we can imagine for how data goes from print into this (mobile device). It follows the same methodology we have on the desktop. That is going to very quickly morph into a, not a game, but a more gaming sensibility in terms of play: cause and effect. There’s no cause and effect in a printed piece.

Koppel: I think people are reading a lot, they are just reading different things. People talk about reading for 10 minutes or 5 minutes ‘cause it allows me to have a private intellectual life on my own time that I’m reclaiming to myself. I really think were talking the ability to provide people with content in an interstitial way, in a way that they don’t have to carry anything else with them, that is pretty revolutionary.
That’s the killer app of this app: it lives with you.

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