Last week I read an interesting article from David Hicks exploring the reasons many publishers are reducing costs associated with the digital edition, mainly in creation and distribution.
This got me thinking, "Is the digital edition dead?"
The digital edition boom erupted with the advent of the iPad when publishers were given an opportunity to create digital replicas with enhanced multimedia features, like image galleries, video and intuitive navigation to engage readers. Many publishers were able to increase revenues and circulation with a digital edition. And all was good.
Fast forward a few years. Tablet use is decreasing and mobile users don't want to read replicas. Instead, they want responsive design. They want animation and video. And, they want it now.
So how can the digital edition evolve? In this post we'll explore how magazine publishers can re-invent their digital edition to meet the demands of the modern mobile user.
Digital edition: From replica to reflow
Anyone who has tried to read a digital replica on their smartphone understands the frustration of pinching and zooming to read articles. By design, replicas force a full magazine page onto each screen. This may have worked great on tablets, but with tablet usage decreasing in favor of larger screen smartphones, replicas are not the future.
The solution? The digital edition of the future needs to be responsive.
Responsive reflows are designed so that text, images and other interactive elements are enlarged to comfortably fit the screen of a device. The result is a superior experience where readers can swipe across to move from one article to the next, and scroll vertically to read each article.
Compared to replicas, engagement also increases thanks to the ability to embedded video, audio, animation and images in responsive pages that load quickly and play seamlessly across different mobile devices.
There is no question that publishing a replica is easy and inexpensive. Most often it's just a matter of uploading a new issue as a PDF. However, responsive reflow creation has evolved, making it much more accessible to mid-size and indie publishers.
Publishers can quickly re-purpose InDesign files into HTML with plug-ins like In5 that maintain layouts as well as interactivity, including Folio Overlays. As an alternative to using DPS, HPub files can then be uploaded directly into an app container or service (like Paperlit), streamlining the cross-platform publishing process, without the need for additional coding or expensive software.
Want more information of publishing directly from InDesign with In5? Check out this helpful guide for transitioning to In5 from DPS.
Moving away from cover-to-cover digital magazine publishing
A recent Freedom Press Survey asked people how much time they spend reading a digital magazine. The response was interesting.
While many people aren't reading replica digital magazines, those who are aren't spending any more than 30 minutes of their time doing so.
As Hicks described, for a long time publishers have been married to the idea of creating digital products in a "cover to cover" magazine format due to circulation reporting guidelines. However, judging from mobile usage and reader behavior, it's clear that publishers need to start publishing shorter, responsive issues more often to keep readers engaged.
Not unlike Snapchat Stories, publishers can publisher weekly compilations of popular stories packaged as a digital reflow (HPub, .folio or HTML) to their digital edition instead of sticking to their monthly issue model.
But that's not all.
Publishers should also consider distributing single articles to their app. These articles can be the same ones shared via social, online and email, or they can be app-exclusive content. Publishers can quickly add single or multiple feeds to their app to give app users fresh content daily, or even hourly.
By publishing more content more regularly, app usage and engagement increases, resulting in a much more valuable mobile audience.
Updating the monetization model
Digital editions have traditionally relied on bundling digital access with print subscription to generate greater revenues. However as the appetite for digital replicas wains, publishers need to look at new ways monetize digital products.
From a circulation perspective, this translates into increasing the number of active app users and transforming users into subscribers, either through in-app purchase or your own paywall/membership model. Single-article consumption can act as a "gateway" to trying and eventually subscribing to digital editions.
On the other hand, as publishers invest in single-article and responsive reflows, this opens up new opportunities to involve advertisers and sponsors in content creation. According to one BI Intelligence report, native ads in-feed will make up the bulk of native ad revenue from 2016-2021, while sponsored content will be the fastest-growing native format over the next five years!
To sum, don't ignore the chance to turn your digital edition into a revenue generation machine by remaining complacent. It's time for magazine publishers to embrace new digital publishing models and responsive formats to meet the needs of the mobile-first society. Then, and only then, can we say: "Viva the digital edition!"