Nokia’s Life Tools and 175+ Countries

Last month elsewhere, I wrote about the importance of providing services to mobile phones as the basis for any newspaper’s future services. I’m involved in a project in a small South Africa city in which mobile will be the key (the story at that hyperlink describes it).

I’d written, rather bluntly, that I don’t particularly care what online business model saves The New York Times or The Daily Telegraph or National Post or Le Monde. Those national publications’ journalism certainly is worth saving, but national publications are atypical. What’s really needed is a business model that can save much smaller daily newspapers, those with less than 100,000 circulation. Those comprise more than 95 percent of the world’s newspapers.

I today spent quite a bit of the day examining Nokia’s Life Tools project. On Sunday, CIO magazine published a brief article outlining the project. It notes:

Life Tools includes a range of services aimed at rural mobile users in emerging markets, where agriculture remains a mainstay of local economies.

Agriculture-related offerings on Life Tools include local weather forecasts, information on crop prices at local markets, advice on growing crops, as well as pricing information for pesticides, seeds and fertilizer. Educational services include English lessons and advice on taking exams, while sports scores and music are available for entertainment.

While agriculture-related services might not be attractive to small newspapers in post-industrial countries, such services are very important in more than 170 other countries worldwide, countries where most of the world’s population lives.

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Moreover, what I’ve been discovering over the past several years is that newspapers need to develop their mobile phone services the opposite way that newspapers developed services in their printed editions.

Newspapers have been printed for more than 400 years. The original newspapers printed only news (hence the name newspapers), but over the centuries other information was added: advertising, scores calendars of events, cartoons, stock prices, dining & entertainment listings, horoscopes, etc.

Today, however, newspapers that use mobile phones only to offer news won’t gain very many mobile users. But if they instead offer mobile services providing dining & entertainment listings, horoscopes, calendars of events, services that match consumers and local merchants, etc., those newspapers’ mobile services will then have enough usage to be profitably able to provide news.

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