Five Trends Shaping Digital Publishing in 2013

Feb 27, 2013


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Article ImageNow that 2013 is underway it is good to get a lay of the land in mobile and tablet publishing. Here are five major trends that you will want to keep an eye on as part of your strategy for the coming year.

Print Commits Suicide

Since the birth of the iPad in 2010, we keep hearing about the "death of print." We are now seeing some of that really happening with major titles like Newsweek and SPIN ditching their print editions, but the twist is that the death of print is by their own hand. They are choosing to cut the print cord themselves.

In most cases, as long as a publisher continues to have a print product, there will be baggage that holds them back from creating a truly amazing digital experience. If 95% of your revenue is coming from print, it's hard to justify putting a lot of effort into the 5% for digital. However, if digital is the only product you have, well then by definition that is going to be 100% of your revenue, and so you are forced into a sink or swim scenario.

This is not to suggest that everyone should go and kill their print products, but it is an interesting trend, and we will see a lot more of it in 2013.

Brand New Mobile-First Publications

In the coming year, you should expect to see more independent publishers launching digital-only publications specifically for tablet and mobile devices. Similar to the way that websites started at the top of the food chain (think nytimes.com in 1996) and moved down to the average Joe (think your aunt's blog), tablet and mobile content will follow the same trajectory.

A blog is to the web as X is to mobile/tablet. The question is, what will X look like?

I believe it will be highly visual, interactive, and more beautiful than any web content. These beautiful "blog apps" will converge the strengths of print (beauty) and of the web (dynamic content) to create something truly new and original.

I fantasize about an editor and a designer leaving a big well-known magazine and starting a new project, using affordable new tools, and self-publishing their way to success. I think we'll see a couple of break-out brands in 2013 do just that.

More Content In Smaller Packages

Print magazines traditionally have been packaged into issues delivered weekly, monthly, or quarterly (and a few other arrangements). There is a good reason for this, which is namely that printing and shipping is expensive, and so you can't go printing and shipping each article alone. It's the same with books.

Now of course, that's not the only reason -- there is also value in having an edited, curated collection of content. But there are literal physical restraints that helped shape the traditional print package models.

In digital, printing and shipping costs go out the window, and it's truly a pay-as-you-go model. Server costs for 100 installments of one page each or one installment of 100 pages each will work out to be the same. In a virtual world where paper and postage are cheap (a.k.a. don't exist), who's to say what the appropriate way to package content is?

This year we will begin to see the sub-division of content. Books will ship by chapter and magazines by article. Quarterly magazines could start publishing weekly. This is where I think subscription models (particularly low cost auto-renewing monthly subscriptions) can really flourish. Subscribe to a brand you like and get a constant stream of content.

Social Media Will Grow Up

Social media is often thought of as a toy. It's a checkbox that you need to get off your list by sticking a Like button at the bottom of your blog post.

As the mobile and tablet industry matures (remember, we are now in year six of smart phones), being cute, and fun is not such a compelling reason to integrate social media into your products.

How do you actually make money from social media? There's no easy answer, but I do believe this will be a key question that publishers try to answer in the coming months. How can you engage your audience and leverage their networks?

A single reader becomes a portal to hundreds or even thousands of other potential customers.

There's no magic bullet here, but finding a way to actually produce revenue from social media should be a major theme for every digital publisher. We are working at MAZ on features like Clippings that lets users share not only links, but actual bite-size pieces of content to their social networks. I hope that others follow suit in attempting to make social more meaningful from a business perspective.

In-App Purchases 

In-app purchases are quickly becoming the best way to monetize mobile and tablet apps. Charging the app itself is passé, but charging for content inside the app is proving to be a great business model. But what are other ways that publishers can use in-app purchases? 

What else can you sell besides your primary content and subscriptions? What about behind-the-scenes videos? What about interviews? What about the original sketches and notes for what eventually became your bestselling novel? What else can be used to enhance the reading experience? Your hardcore readers will pay you real money if you have something worth buying, and small bits as in-app purchases are the way to sell it.

The real question for this and all five of these themes is how creative are you willing to get? In the end, it's not about the trends in technology, it's about how you use them!