Bye bye publishers’ mobile website

Like it or not, your website won’t be the primary place where people read your content anymore (at least on mobile).

I can’t remember the last time I actually opened the mobile website of a publisher. I discover links mostly through Twitter and Facebook and I send them to Pocket, my offline reader. It’s such a better experience: consistent navigation, no ad, no bloated pages that take forever to load on a mobile connection (seriously you really need 100+ requests and 2.6MB of data — which takes 35s to load on a 3G connection — to send me some text and one stock photo?).

I’m not the only one. This is a trend that will accelerate for a few reasons:

First, there is the exponential growth of ad blockers. 300M people have downloaded one of them. The recent announcement of Apple at their developer conference that they will allow extensions to block ads on mobile will accelerate this adoption even more.

300M people have downloaded an ad blocker on their desktop. They will soon be available to hundreds of millions of iOS devices.

Second, there is mobile. Most publishers already have the majority of their traffic coming from mobile devices that have a limited bandwidth. Whereas on desktops people would be very forgiving about heavy web pages bloated with requests to 3rd party services (ad servers, widgets, etc.), on mobile it’s a different story. Loading a web page from the original publisher’s website takes between 5 to 30s on mobile. That’s forever. Whereas a text shot on Twitter or a Native Article on Facebook loads instantly.

Third, today’s news portals (mostly Twitter, Facebook), start to understand the role they could play in all this. They figured that they could offer a much better experience by bringing to their users the content of those pages natively. In the process, they could disrupt this big fat industry of ad related services for publishers that have become a cancer.

Instead, Facebook will be the only ad server and will split the revenue with the publisher. Everybody wins: the publisher can get rid of many middlemen that take most of their revenue, they “just” need to pay a 30% tax to Facebook; Users win in a big way: much faster load time, lower data usage, better consistent reading experience across publishers; And of course Facebook wins. The only losers here are all those ad servers. We won’t miss them.

The next step for Facebook is to open their Native Articles program to everybody. This will be the equivalent of AdSense for the social web. You will see a rush to a new goldmine, many will try to abuse the system by creating content farms adapted to that new model. And that’s fine. We’ve seen that movie before (remember DemandMedia?). Taringa!, the Argentinian social network has already rolled out such program (paying content producers in bitcoins!) and they saw a 40% increase of content creation.

The next step for Twitter is to not miss that train. Twitter has always been about news and content so they have clear arguments to be an important player here (if they can deliver).

The next step for you publishers is to stop focusing on your own mobile website too much. It’s not the first place where your content will be seen moving forward. Focus on building your audience wherever they are. If those platforms offer a revenue sharing, great. If not, embed ads directly within your feeds on those platforms. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t offer a way for your readers to directly subscribe to you. You should. But you should give equal importance to all the new networks where your audience expect your content.

The next step for you ad related companies, is to stop racket publishers with services to monetize their own properties. This is not a sustainable value proposition. Instead, focus on helping them monetize their content wherever it can be published natively. Help them insert sponsored links within a Facebook post, a sponsored image in their Instagram feed, etc.

The next step for you reader is to install an ad blocker for your browser. I recommend uBlock. Also Pocket or Instapaper are great apps to read content from publishers without having to load their website again and again.

Thanks to Burt Herman and Pierre Wolff for proof reading a draft of this post.

Xavier Damman

About the author

I'm Xavier Damman. I'm an engineer in computer science and an entrepreneur. I'm passionate about the digital renaissance. I like to think about the future of media (I cofounded Storify), organizations and democracy. In my spare time, I like to hack and to talk. You can follow me on Twitter @xdamman.