Washington Post believes mobile can be viable platform this year

The Washington Post is using its new iPhone app — the first of several forthcoming products — as a test of the market for paid mobile news, according to Goli Sheikholeslami, the Post’s vice president and general manager for digital operations.

The paper is “quite bullish” on mobile being a viable platform this year. “We think that — fingers crossed — it is finally ‘the year for mobile,’ ” Sheikholeslami told me during a phone interview on Wednesday.

Launched today, the Washington Post iPhone app costs $1.99 for one year’s access. The app includes articles, columns, blogs and photo galleries that can be saved for offline reading in a “MyPost” folder.

The iTunes Store has created an expectation among consumers of paying for content on mobile platforms, Sheikholeslami said, which has opened the door for newspapers to experiment with their business models.

Sheikholeslami declined to share the Post’s internal goals for downloads and revenue for the new app but said the overall mobile strategy exceeded its goals in 2009 and had a strong opening so far in 2010. Advertisers are becoming more interested in mobile platforms, too.

The Post is pursuing an iPad strategy, but Sheikholeslami said they were still “looking very intently at what we can do there” and were not ready to share any details. However, she was generally enthusiastic about tablets, saying they “combine the best features of both desktop and smart phone.”

“Whether it is our photojournalism or videos, it gives us an opportunity to showcase” that content on the iPad’s larger screen, she said.

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Right now, news orgs such as the Post must weigh how much effort they will devote to developing apps for several different devices and operating systems. Sheikholeslami said they would like to see a standard that enables development on multiple platforms.

In the meantime, they’re watching the market to see what takes off. “We sort of approach it thinking about the consumer adoption perspective. What are consumers going to gravitate towards?”

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