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Time Inc., Hachette execs go head-to-head on mobile Web versus app debate

NEW YORK ? While Time Inc. and Hachette Filipacchi Media both have mobile Web sites and applications, executives from each company took different stances on the debate at Netbiscuits Partner Day 2010.

One the one hand, client applications are red-hot right now and can offer a richer device-specific experience than a mobile site. However, the mobile Web offers greater reach than downloadable applications?a mobile-optimized site can overcome the fragmentation of the various App Stores and mobile operating systems.

?The mobile browser is the killer app?mobile Web sites will come up in search results, as opposed to downloadable apps, where discoverability is an issue,? said John Paris, director of mobile products at Time Inc., New York.

?Apps are getting all the buzz right now?apps are all we hear about,? he said. ?If you look at a broad overview of how people are using their phones, there is a pretty close trajectory of adoption apps and the mobile Web.?

Time is now
While Mr. Paris is a strong proponent of the mobile Web, Time Inc. has invested heavily in applications, with a heavy focus on optimizing its magazines for Apple?s iPad.

Time magazine, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and People magazine all have iPad applications. Time Inc. has also launched applications for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Palm.

Time Inc. launched its first mobile Web site in 2006. Currently, its mobile Web properties include Time Mobile,, SI Mobile, InStyle Mobile,, Essence and My Recipes Mobile.

?We look at how people are accessing our content, and mobile Web usage is continually outpacing use of applications,? Mr. Paris said. ?Why is the mobile browser the killer app? The first reason is search.

?The days of mobile URLs are long gone?everyone is doing mobile redirects,? he said. ?If you want to look at People magazine content on your phone, go to, the Netbiscuits-hosted mobile-optimized Web site.?

Since it was mobile-device-optimized, traffic on People Mobile has grown 56 percent, and soon all Time Inc. sites will be mobile-optimized.

Second reason that the mobile Web is the killer app is social, per Mr. Paris.

?People are increasingly using their mobile phones to access their social networks and sharing Web URLs via Facebook or Twitter?what am I going to get on my phone when I click on it?? Mr. Paris said. ?Mobile is all about social and vice versa?mobile users spend much more time social-networking than reading email.

?When you look at the power of side-door traffic, no one is going directly to home pages?traffic is driven via links on social networking and email,? he said.

Another challenge of applications is supporting multiple operating systems.

?The fragmentation of the app stores is frustrating, with carrier stores, handset manufacturer stores, etcetera,? Mr. Paris said. ?The cost and timeline of building apps as we know it might not be sustainable with so many platforms to support.

?How do we from a cost-effective standpoint create for all of these platforms?? he said. ?One of the answers is HTML5.?

Hachette's take
Hachette Filipacchi Media?s focus has gradually shifted from the mobile Web to applications.

In 2009, the publisher launched several mobile applications, including Car and Driver Buyers Guide, Woman?s Day Cooking Assistant, Elle Shopping Guide and Elle Astrology.

The iPad is a top priority for Hachette.

The most recent application to come to market is the Car and Driver Text U L8r application featuring text-to-voice for iPhone, Android and BlackBerry.

?This year we?re in process of updating mobile Web sites with Netbiscuits, and some app roll-outs as well Julia Schulhof, director of emerging platforms at Hachette Filipacchi Media, New York. ?We?re putting increasing emphasis on design, social networking, device optimization and mobile video to create a very engaging experience for consumers.

?We also exploring daily offers from advertisers, the kind of thing that make you want to come back and use the app regularly, as well as ads directing traffic into retail shops and closing the loop at the point of sale,? she said.

Elle?s iPad application is commerce-enabled, and it has been driving sales for brands such as Lacoste, which is a sponsor.

In addition to ad-support, Hachette relies on pay-per-download or subscriptions to drive revenue and monetize its applications.

While Ms. Schulhof is a proponent of applications, she recognizes the application-development challenges that publishers face.

There are common questions: How to efficiently publish applications to all handsets/platforms? How are we going to get onto all of those platforms? How to take best advantage of native features? How to make money?

Brands and publishers have to spend at least as much money marketing their applications as developing them, because there are a glut of apps, so discoverability is a challenge.

In addition to those challenges, a Pew Internet study found that 35 percent of U.S. adults have mobile phones with applications, but only 24 percent say they actually use them.

?While there are still some people who don?t know what apps are or how to use them, we?re seeing a widening embrace of apps by a widening segment of the population,? Ms. Schulhof said. ?We can definitely reach the masses via the mobile Web, and publishers should focus on that, but it?s not apps versus the mobile Web?to me it is both.

?You?re missing the boat if you don?t have both,? she said. ?We have a mobile Web strategy and we have an app strategy, and they should work in concert with one another.?

Mr. Paris and Ms. Schulhof at Netbiscuits Partner Day 2010:

Final Take