Across the globe, mobile apps have become one of the most popular channels to access content for users. In fact, according to research firm Gartner Inc. mobile apps will generate revenues in excess of $77 billion by 2017. Content consumption via mobile devices—through mobile browsers and mobile apps—has been growing over 60%, year over year. There has been an interesting shift from mobile browser to mobile native apps for consumption of content over the last 12 to 18 months.

In short, the new digital world is generating a digital native user base, with researchers and scholarly writers who are highly conversant with digital content. Publishers can use this changing landscape to find new ways to monetize their content, to better engage with their readers and researchers worldwide, and to make their business more viable in this new age.

A better understanding of users equals a better way to monetize content. Now that publishers have access to new tools such as Flurry, Google Analytics, and Mixpanel, gathering data on which articles were downloaded, how much time a user spent in reading the articles, and the demographics of the readers has become easier. Such targeted analytics can be generated from much of the activities on the Web or mobile devices.

Analytics can help to predict user behavior, determine what type of content is most useful, and allow publishers to adjust their publishing program to reflect these preferences. Such detailed information provides publishers with more insight on how to increase their revenues, such as where to advertise and what kind of advertisement to place. It follows then that publishers will have a better understanding on the best ways to serve and retain their customers—both readers and authors—and thereby strengthen their overall business.

Advertising, for instance, is a fast expanding and changing method to increase revenues. With the onset of mobile, app users are often willing to accept advertising in exchange for content access. Within an app, advertising can take many forms: banner advertisements that remain on a page while the user is reading within an article, or even full-page advertisements that come up randomly when an article within an issue is being browsed. Sponsored content and native advertising can also be good revenue sources for publishers.

Content-wise, mobile apps are allowing publishers to publish more time-sensitive research material in an incremental basis. Readers can even have access to the articles prior to the actual publication. In such cases, publishers can use advertisements more creatively.

Smartphones and tablets also allow publishers to make advertisements more interactive. So instead of simple static advertisements, publishers can opt for HTML5-based fully interactive advertisements, which tend to generate much stronger user engagement.

Traditionally, publishers discarded most of the ancillary artifacts that their authors submitted along with research articles. This has changed with the advent of Web, which has allowed publishers to publish such ancillary content along with the full-text article. Mobile platforms have made it really easy to access these ancillary content types. In fact, interactive content such as videos, audio, simulations, etc. are a great way to further engage the user via an app. Taken together, these have increased the footfall for mobile consumption of content especially for readers who are constantly on the move whether for work or business travel.

Meanwhile, Open Access (OA), which has been debated and discussed for many years, is now a hot topic. Publishers looking at mobile platform are pushing the envelope to provide easy access to OA content.

But accessibility continues to be a big challenge. With mobile platforms providing hardware-level accessibility features for users, publishers have been trying hard to make their content more accessible to the blind, visually impaired, etc. This will further open up mobile platform usage.

So a solid strategy for increasing digital distribution channels and monetization is necessary for every publisher. Such a strategy can be put into motion with the help of analytics, market research, user focus groups, and internal discussions to determine the most useful apps, and how best to monetize them.

At KiwiTech, we have created several mobile platforms for the scholarly publishing industry. Most of our clients are experimenting and trying new ways to monetize their content, and quite a few have dedicated resources to explore content mobility and app monetization. However, most are waiting to see which app monetization strategies will be most successful before deciding on the path that would work best for them—and this is basically the general stance adopted by the publishing industry on the whole.

But there is a compelling need to move sooner rather than later in order to survive the rapid shift to the digital world, which is increasing in complexity with newer devices and platforms. The task of becoming current and staying that way gets tougher with each passing day. So publishers must explore how best to leverage their content today, rather than wait for just the right moment and risk losing their edge. They must act right now because apps are quickly turning from “nice to have” to must-haves.