4 ways mobile has changed the world

There will soon be four billion smartphones in use on the planet. With that increase comes a change in news production, distribution, consumption, and competition.

In case you have been living under a giant Blackberry bush for the last eight years, guess what? Mobile has changed the world.

With just over seven billion people on the planet, there will soon be more than four billion smartphones … and counting. This staggering number of units will dwarf the PC population (a mere 1.5 billion) – but it’s not just raw numbers that are important.

Evidence tells us that smartphone owners are glued to their devices during every waking hour, checking the tiny rectangular screens from 100 to 150 times a day. And, as we all navigate the steep tech innovation curve, it will mean more opportunities for use and greater user dependency.

So what does this mean for the business of news publishing and what has changed for us? Well, everything really.

Mobile has changed production.

The basic interaction model for digital content discovery on a PC has not changed in 30 years. You read a Web page with links; you click on a link and reach another Web page with more links and so on.

Similarly, news content creation has been based on a simple paradigm.

First, fill a page with words and display it at recommended width, font size, and line height. Then, insert images related to the words to serve as an entry point and add depth to the narrative. That process was something we were all used to, but mobile has blown that apart during the last eight years.

Content discovery on mobile still includes the Web paradigm but now we must work out new interaction models. We start with apps, geo, messaging, predictive, and voice, then move on to wearables, connected cars, connected home, and beyond.

Each one has different use cases and different interaction models that challenge our ideas about producing words and pictures.

Mobile has changed distribution.

News audiences have never been larger than they are today. But the paths users take to discover content are changing.

Once, the focus was on getting people to step through the front door – the home page or the front page. Now, search engines and social media are intermediaries and huge drivers of audience, and this is especially true of mobile.

In its 2014 Digital News Report, Reuters Institute published data from a survey that asked residents of 10 countries: “How do you get your news? What’s your pathway?” The findings showed that residents of only four out of 10 countries reported going directly to the brand. Those in other countries still access news; they just get there via other means.

Mobile has changed consumption.

Four years ago, on the day that Osama bin Laden was killed, the bulk of the Sydney Morning Herald digital audience (85%) came to our PC Web site. Only 15% came to us via smartphone and, even though tablet use had taken off, virtually no one came to our content via a tablet on that day.

Fast forward to March 2014, when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing. Nearly one-fifth of our audience consumed news on a tablet. Even more telling is that on that same day, 42% accessed content via a desktop device and 41% via smartphone. We are on the tipping point of smartphone dominance.

Mobile has changed competition.

On a PC, it is often easier to see who your competitors are, as the use cases are somewhat clearer: People are there to read something new, so your competitive set is generally made up of those who sit within your content category.

But with mobile, the use cases are so much more fluid. While some people are coming to read something new, others are there because they have time on their hands. If the user’s motivation is partially to fill in time, then your competition shifts from being solely between products within an industry to products in adjacent, unrelated industries.

That means that Minecraft, Instagram, and Snapchat, for example, pose the same threat to your publishing business as does your nearest news rival.