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To the extent that we, as information providers, wish to be involved in major information and education markets, we will need to grasp the full potential of mobile phones — as communication devices, transmission hubs, and tools for transportable interaction.

Who is going mobile and how quickly?

“It looks highly likely that global mobile cellular teledensity will surpass 100% within the next decade, and probably earlier,” said Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, cited in a 2009 article in the Economist. According to the piece, teledensity, which is the number of mobile phones per 100 people, has already exceeded 100% in Europe and South Africa, with Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania following suit and expected to reach 100% by 2013. India Telecom News announced in December that urban teledensity in India has crossed the 100% mark. From Chris Tryhorn’s article in the Guardian last March, 60% of the world’s population pays to use a mobile phone, with developing countries representing two-thirds of the use population.

What’s the upshot?

There is increasing evidence to suggest that mobile device use may outstrip personal computer use in the global community in the next 10 years and that the expansion of mobile content delivery tools may be at the center of a new generation of globalized business and education initiatives.

There are many examples of the most current movements in the mobile information space.

From Thomson-Reuters’ AlertNet on March 25:

[Uma] Lele, lead author of a report released on Thursday called “Transforming Agricultural Research for Development,” says the keys to boosting production lie not in new hybrid seeds or other “silver bullet” technologies but in a myriad of small advances, from mobile phone technology that gives small farmers information about where to find the best price for their produce on any given day to cutting paperwork associated with obtaining grants.

The World Bank, also embarking on a study investigating the use of mobile phones in education in developing countries, says:

While ‘education’ is the focus here, the area of inquiry is not be limited to the formal education sector itself. Lifelong learning and educational outreach activities utilizing the mobile phone to benefit the health and agricultural sectors will also fall within the scope of this study.

Google’s 2009 acquisitions have also focused on mobile development and apps. A year-in-review piece in Search Engine Journal boils it down nicely:

where Google has put most of its research and development in 2009 : Google Chrome OS, Google powered netbooks, Google Droid Phone and Android Mobile OS . . . the ability to condense data into a stream which can make the most of our current 3G and mobile networks’ definition of mobile broadband.

Also last week, BlackBoard announced that they will be making their mobile services more robust, via BlackBoard Mobile Learn:

Mobile Learn, according to Blackboard, will move beyond the company’s current mobile offerings and will mimic the full functionality of the Web-based Learn platform, including two-way communication between students and teachers, access to gradebooks, blog access and commenting, discussion board participation, and student-to-student e-mail communications.

Skiff, the manufacturer of the Skiff e-reading device, also announced last week a partnership with Samsung in which Skiff readers can call Samsung phones to send content to them:

The Samsung partnership is part of a larger strategy to distribute content from Skiff’s publisher partners — including Hearst but also the New York Times Co., Random House and Simon & Schuster — to a variety of mobile devices, as well as laptops and PCs.

What does this mean to scholarly publishers?

We are presented with an intriguing opportunity to think about the utility of the materials that we create and the value that we can add via interactive mobile technologies. Nokia has been a forerunner in Mobile Learning and has partnered with non-profits to develop pilot projects in developing nations. Researchers at UC Berkeley have published academic papers on elementary-level mLearning and libraries.  And, in the EU, the European Commission funds MOBIlearn and M-Learning projects.

This is not to say that the publishing community has been digitally (or mobile-ly) inactive. We simply may have stalled out at Web sites, content alerts, and apps. A few conference presentations hence, our thinking could coalesce, and we will begin to transform new opportunities into action. At this moment in time, we are watching the indicators align. At the point at which technology collides with need — it’s time to draw up the plans (or get a snazzier cell phone).

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4 Thoughts on "Seeking a Major Market for Scholarly Materials? Get on the Phone!"

I am not sure how much I would really like to read a scholarly paper on a phone – if we like on-screen reading, we wouldn’t be so reliant on PDFs. But if I could have an app which allowed me to search and browse abstracts and print off selected pdf’s remotely [from a wifi printer] all from my phone – that would be really useful.

I imagine this is already possible, but probably in an unintuitive, complicated way.

Shanda Literature in China has almost a million writers who seek fame, and at least 5 million readers who pay to read on their mobile phones by installments.

A key to their business model is the relationship with wireless company China Mobile, which has 650 million customers and collects the micropayments from those reading these texts, typically 2 to 4 yuan cents per 1,000 words.

Shanda shares 30 to 50 per cent of their income with these authors and now has more than 200 authors who have earned more than 200,000 yuan (18,700 US dollars) from their writing so far.

Actually, the publishing industry might face a future armageddon when we have more writers than readers.

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