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Time Moves to Responsive Design

News brand tries to capitalize on mobile traffic

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Time magazine says it isn’t going to follow Newsweek’s move to a digital-only publication. But nor is it ignoring the shift towards mobile news reading. And so Oct. 21, Time moved its site to responsive design so that the content automatically “snaps” to the frame, regardless of screen size (no more pinching and zooming). At the same time, Time redesigned its site across all platforms so that the content and user experience are uniform across all devices.

Executives there are clearly seeing more traffic coming from mobile devices. Time.com has nearly 10 million monthly unique visitors, they said, citing comScore, with 15 percent of that coming from tablets and smartphones, and the goal is to attract more people and keep them on the site longer. 

“It was really about the consumer experience, because of all these consumers who were coming to Time.com from different devices,” said Craig Ettinger, general manager for Time.com. “They’re using those as a surrogate for a desktop computer. They want to see everything we’ve got to offer.”

Time had social media users high on its mind when it decided to move to responsive design. Social media now accounts for at least 12 percent of referrals to Time.com, and most people who click on Time links from Facebook, Twitter and the like are doing so on a mobile. Going forward, said Ettinger, "They'll be getting a much better experience." 

People was the first Time Inc. title to move to responsive design. The celeb weekly's site rolled out on smartphones and tablets in July, and in addition to a new design that accommodates viewing on various mobile devices, the site also is edited to respond to readers’ different interests at different times of day.

Time isn’t doing that with its mobile site. The content initially will be the same across all platforms (although one key difference for mobile users now is that subscribers will be able to access Time’s archived content going back to 1923, content previously available only on the desktop.) Executives said they haven’t ruled out customizing the content down the road, though.

“The reader is probably not going to read a 5,000-word article on the iPad, but they might look at the news feed,” Time m.e. Richard Stengel said. “I actually think there has to be tailor-made content for each platform. This is just a very smart first step.”

The embrace of responsive design also speaks to the fact that when it comes to how people are using their mobiles to get news, the browser is still king. A study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) with The Economist Group found that, the pervasiveness of apps notwithstanding, about 60 percent of mobile users get their news mostly from browsers, more than twice the percent of users who get their news mostly from apps.

Time, for its part, said it isn’t ready to abandon apps and that it will continue to develop platform-specific products and content. To date, it has 4.8 million mobile app downloads, not including subscribers to its digital edition. Stengel said Time is looking at many models for digital publishing, including apps as well as slicing and dicing content and selling it by topic.

“There’s going to be a segment of our user base that’s going to want to continue accessing Time on those apps,” Ettinger said. “So we really want to support both experiences. There’s a nice audience there, and we want it to continue to grow.”