@ pcMobile: How Time Inc, Zite, & CrowdFusion Manage Platform & App Fatigue

Content publishers are facing difficult choices about how to direct often limited resources to a growing number of platforms and business models. Which mobile strategy makes the most sense? This morning at pC Mobile 2011, Tom Krazit, mobile editor at paidContent and mocoNews, talked with Fran Hauser, President of Time (NYSE: TWX) Inc.’s Digital, Style and Entertainment and Lifestyle Groups; Mark Johnson, CEO of personalized iPad magazine Zite; and Brian Alvey, founder and President of content management service Crowd Fusion, about how to choose among platforms and marketplaces.

Hauser, Johnson, and Alvey all say they think iOS first. In the case of Time Inc.’s custom-build apps, says Hauser, they make decisions based on the demography of the audience. “We might launch a Fortune app on BlackBerry, but not an inStyle app,” she says.

“I wish it was a two-horse race, iPhone and iPad, that would make my life a lot easier,” said Alvey. Building for Android “scares the hell out of me” because of the sheer number of devices and fragmented marketplace.

Johnson said he’s heard arguments that Android is a good platform to beta test an app. “If you want a really great launch on iOS, get the bugs out on Android first.” Plus, “maybe there’s less competition on Android.” But he hasn’t found those arguments very convincing, and Zite is currently iPad-only.

“Sounds like you’re already experiencing platform fatigue,” Krazit said. “Maybe that’s Google’s strategy,” Alvey responded. “You build one thing for Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), 150 things for [Android], you’re so tired you won’t make it to the third [platform].”

What about app fatigue? What content is app-worthy? Hauser said that’s a question Time Inc., which has 23 domestic brands, struggles with, and that over the last few months the company has put together a more formal, rigorous greenlighting process for apps. First, her team looks for a feature in the app that will foster repeat usage: “Why would people come back” instead of just downloading an app once and never using it again. They also seek to create templates that can be repurposed by other brands. For instance, Entertainment Weekly and Golf were able to use the same design and technology in their “Must List” and “Front 9” apps.

What about the mobile web? Hauser said customers are three times more engaged in apps than they are in mobile websites, and she believes that Time Inc. has a better chance of charging for content through an app than it does on the mobile web. But at the same time, the mobile web is “our scale play” and “a big priority”: 2.5 million consumers are currently visiting Time Inc. websites from their iPads. Time Inc. is also including Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Tag 2D barcodes in its print publications, which readers can scan with their smartphones to do activities like watch movie trailers.

Johnson and Hauser agreed that publishers will need to retool their websites to make them more mobile- and user-friendly. This can involve redesigning them for touch (rather than mouse) navigation and adding images in place of text links. “Web doesn’t really translate well to mobile devices,” Johnson said. Publishers should “rethink what the web looks like.”