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Why many digital publishers still face a long road to success

M&M Global Blog by Managing Director, Russell Pierpoint - March 2015

Publishers must reconsider the role they aim to fulfil, writes Russell Pierpoint, managing director at Evolved Media Solutions.

Just a few years ago, the rise of digital magazines was thought to have given the traditional publishing industry a reprieve from its long term decline. However, it seems that this was only temporary, as figures suggest digital magazines are not taking up the slack of print decline, either in terms of circulation or revenue.

After the initial excitement and hype around launching digital publications, many publishers lost heart when they found that their digital magazines weren’t bringing in a whole new audience or even retaining their existing subscribers.

Publishers have been learning as they go, and making mistakes, as it’s still a relatively new platform. Unfortunately, some titles have failed while others have downgraded their investment in digital magazines and the initial wave of innovation has now faded.

The trouble is, many publishers simply replicate their print magazine on a tablet rather than thinking about what kind of service consumers want – consumer expectations of digital formats are complex and can be very different from print magazines.

A good example of this can be seen in the many magazines that make up the interior design sector. Most have just imitated their print product in a digital format, while maybe adding some interactivity. As a result, they have struggled to create the audience they might have expected.

They see the other magazines in this sector as their competition, when actually they should be looking more at the likes of Houzz – a social platform for home remodelling and design – as a competitor.

Added twist

Houzz gives people much of what they want from an interiors magazine with an added twist. As well as providing inspiration to create mood boards and scrapbooks, it makes itself more useful and relevant to the consumer than its magazine counterparts by providing practical tools and connecting them directly with architects and designers whose style they like. You can even buy the products shown so that you can also live the dream and create the same look you’ve seen on screen.

Another problem for publishers exists in their current payment models. Publishers still measure success in terms of subscriptions which is fine for print magazines, but subscriptions for digital magazines create barriers for consumers who are used to a digital world where most things are free. It’s a big sea change for digital publishers, but they need to make their content free at the point of consumption as a means to gain consumer interest and create wider distribution.

They then need to think creatively about revenue streams that replace subscriptions – bearing in mind that the cost of setting up and running a digital magazine is significantly lower than a print magazine, so profit ratios are different.

It’s similar to what happened in the music industry around five years ago, when free downloads and live streaming revolutionised how people accessed music, especially among certain generations.

However, instead of contracting, the music industry has shifted. While a great deal of music is accessed for free, the music industry has identified that people are happy to pay for different things, and at varying levels, depending on their interest. For example, limited collectors’ editions of CDs are sold at a premium; Spotify is growing as a useful way to access music from one place; and live music is growing as festivals proliferate.

Get creative

Publishers can learn a great deal from this and need to get creative. The new payment models need to enable consumers to participate at the level they want, with a pricing scale that reflects this.

Guides could be written with helpful, in-depth advice, which consumers buy as extras; posters and other merchandise could be created from images and themes in the magazine; special events such as ‘Meet the Specialists’ evenings could be arranged; and ‘how to’ classes and exhibitions could provide huge potential for revenue.

The digital publishers that are here today, and that will still be here in five years’ time, are those that take all of this thinking and redefine what publishing means. As well as being a content provider, a publisher is an entertainer, a source of inspiration, a retailer, a credible advisor, a manufacturer, an event organiser and a portal to a world of connectivity around the area of interest it covers.

The challenge remains in their need to make crucial changes, before it’s too late.

Russell Pierpoint, managing director, Evolved Media Solutions

8 St Thomas Street | London, SE1 9RR | T +44(0)208 669 1804 | info@evolvedmediasolutions.co.uk