Editor’s Note: Mobile: The Web All Over Again?
In the feature "21 Tips for Developing Your Mobile Game Plan" (page 10), Merriam-Webster President and Publisher John Morse makes a really interesting point: He suggests, "Be as bold with mobile apps today as we were with the Web 10 years ago." The Web was a new frontier, where questions abounded and risk lurked around every corner. It is, in its premise, very similar to mobile.
In 1996, 15 years ago, I spearheaded the launch of the website for the publication where I worked at the time, learning html (as an editor), coding copy myself, deciding not to put all of our print content online (it was a paid publication: subscription and newsstand), but most importantly, conceiving of products that tapped the Web's unique nature. We set up a discussion forum in 1997, events listings for shows, a clickable map that showed shows and galleries in each state. The forum was the most popular; in fact, we received so many comments every day, it became nearly impossible to moderate. Within two years, at most, our site traffic exceeded our print circulation by about 300 percent. Our ad revenue was significant.
Arguments abounded in the industry about whether to put print content (mainly newspapers and magazines) online for free, and doing so was, in fact, all that some publications did. We know where that landed the publishing industry.
Book publishers struggled with questions about whether or not to sell books directly from their sites, what content to feature, whether to just put up an online catalog. Then they began to offer "see inside" types of features, and video and audio clips of authors, and other ancillary information that could help a consumer "connect" with an author or book more directly.
John Morse's comparison between the Web and mobile is an eye opener. It also screams "caution!" to me. So many publishers messed up on the Web, ignoring it or doing very little with it, while the rest of the information world went Web-wild. Other publishers jumped in head first, though sometimes blindly, but got a head start on their competition and built a strong online foundation for growth over the past 10 years.