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Digital editions: New opportunities of old media
Traditional media companies around the world are at a critical crossroad. Digitally connected readers with a diminishing appetite for print-based media are putting real pressure to bear on traditional publishing business models. The good news is that people still want to read. They just want to do so in more convenient, more interactive, more portable ways. This is apparent in the increasing volume consumed on mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones. So, as dramatic as the global decline in print media is, the real story lies in the rapid ascent of digital media. Digital editions currently make up less than two per cent of total magazine circulation, but their numbers are growing at a remarkable pace. According to a forecast from global research firm mediaIDEAS, over the next eight years publishing will undergo massive change, with digital editions edging print by 2020.
Turning a print publication into a digital one is a compelling option for publishers, and advertisers. As print readership declines, publishers naturally have to seek ways of cutting the costs of their publications and improving the value proposition for advertisers. On mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, people can interact with the content differently than with a printed magazine. Opportunity exists for innovative publishers to pioneer new models for content delivery and value-creation. Interesting examples are already emerging around the world. Mobile device users can now read news and features on publishers' Web sites that are coded to adapt themselves to smaller screens. Others publishers are making their content available in standards-based formats like RSS that can be read via mobile apps like Google Reader, Pulse and Flipboard. The popularity of these apps is a clear sign of the growing appetite for digital content. But it also points to the reality that tech-savvy readers want more than a digital replica of a print publication. They increasingly expect a reading experience that is optimised for their mobile lifestyle.
Wanted: New business models
The rise of the Internet and mobile computing has been unpleasantly disorienting for publishers steeped in the models of traditional print newspapers and magazines. The new business models to support changing consumer appetites, while staying profitable, are still being defined. Publishing firms must answer real business questions. News organisations must answer: Should online users be charged for access to digital content? This risks losing them entirely to providers of free news sources. Should all print content be made available online? This risks increasing the loss of an already shrinking print subscriber base. Book publishers must consider: Should ebooks be priced less than physical books? This risks canabalising print book sales. Magazine and press executives ponder: Should online content be limited or time delayed? This risks angering print subscribers who crave the convenience of online access as well as deterring younger generations who are not typically print buyers. Should advertisers pay more for carrying their ads on to digital replicas? Should staff be specially compensated for online expansion of print content or for managing online interactions with readers? Should a dedicated mobile app, tablet app or should special subscription-based Web site be developed? How will online content be monetised? There are no straightforward answers to these questions.
innovate to remain relevant. Publishers must be bold in their experimentation and resolute in their commitment to investing in new forms of content delivery and services. This involves, for example, breaking down the solos that in traditional publishing houses exist. Old media firms transitioning to new media must bring journalists, software developers, graphic artists, social networking specialists, marketers and sales folk people all into new collaborative harmony. This is necessary for publishers and media go beyond print models, and set their sights higher than merely launching a print replica online. A changing business landscape and evolving user behaviour demand no less. Obviously, not every experiment at new digital business will succeed, but without experimentation there will be no evolution. And without evolution, print publishers face an uncertain future. The digital universe is diverse and expanding. Digital delivery is quickly becoming a reality for publishers of all sorts. It presents powerful and potentially profitable new ways of delivering interactive and engaging products to subscribers. As delivery platform are standardised, it also opens new opportunities for advertisers through rich media and subscription options. In short, it holds tremendous opportunities for those willing to innovate. At the same time, it brings real risks to the traditional business models of publishing firms. The quality and caliber of leaders in the sector will be tested. The challenge and cost of the necessary organisational shifts will be quite significant. But the reward is business survivability, and for the fortunate, profitability.
Bevil Wooding is the Founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education- focused not-for-profit delivering valuesbased technology training programs including digital publishing and eBook creation workshops. He is also Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding and Facebook: facebook.com/bevilwooding
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