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The Sweet Spot: How Print and Mobile Will Converge

If you've been struggling to imagine how newspapers, magazines and books will be able to survive the historic transformation to online digital media, one answer may be that you may have gotten stuck at the desktop and/or laptop stage of thinking.

That certainly was the case with me for a while.

But sitting before a console, staring at a flickering flow of electronic text, has never been able to compete with the reader experience of snuggling up with a book, magazine or a newspaper -- and it probably never will.

That's where mobile devices come in. Listen in to what Hugh McGuire has to say today over on The Book Oven Blog:
"My experience of reading news on the iPhone is totally different than reading on the web. When I'm on my laptop I flit from place to place, to email, to Boing Boing, to Google Reader, to work I am supposed to be doing. I rarely finish articles, and I would never consider 'going to the New York Times' to find my news. It's flowing around me all the time.

"On the iPhone, however, I read much like I would a newspaper -- going through the whole thing, not reading all articles, but scanning all the headlines, and reading a number of stories from different sections...I think this is a fascinating shift in my content consumption -- back to an older, more focused kind of reading."

McGuire goes on to say he senses an opening for paid content on mobile devices, where "content feels like it has real value again."

All of this comes in the context of Ryan Chittum's interesting piece in the Columbia Journalism Review about Rupert Murdoch's displeasure at discovering that iPhone and Blackberry users can read Wall Street Journal content for free. (Apparently the platform for charging for this content will not be available until the fall.)

Meanwhile, the Journal may be developing a new readership base. Once again, Hugh McGuire:

"I am now a daily reader of WSJ because of their nice free iPhone app. I used to read maybe one article a month from WSJ... But with the iPhone app I am now a serious daily reader of theirs."

So, the big question is, will mobile readers, unlike web users, be willing to pay for content?
"I suppose I won't continue to read WSJ if I have to pay for it," McGuire allows, " though I do have the sense that with reasonable prices I might be willing to pay for news content on the iPhone, even if i would never consider doing so on the web.

In recent weeks, I've been hearing a lot of similar stories from people who have made the jump from desk-bound devices to mobile smart phones. The iPhone, in particular, seems to be galvanizing behavioral changes among both consumers and publishers, as the "app" model of organizing information and experience supplants the web browser as the new best option.

If so, help for the troubled print publishing industry may well be on the way -- in a form of a mobile hand-held device -- which, come to think of it, is exactly how one might describe a book, magazine, or newspaper!

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