Ten years. One decade. An immeasurable length of time spent reviewing platforms, the finished products and how they are implemented. Often for pleasure. In some cases prospecting. Frequently to gather intelligence. On occasion by complete accident.
This casual review of how digital magazine and newspaper editions are created and distributed, along with studies which purport reader’s preferences of the medium, has lead to this comprehensive list of ‘Deadly Sins’. The items mentioned below represent significant factors that prevent a digital edition from initial or continued success in the marketplace.
Unmarketing is not a word but a quick google search suggests it is a company. That companies motto is ‘Stop marketing. Start engaging'. That is a profound ethos. That said I would argue that it is impossible to engage until the market knows you exist.
“Unlike a paper copy a digital edition of a newspaper or magazine is a relatively new concept“
Print editions organically market themselves well. They have a physical presence. They have an established history in modern society. The same cannot be said for a digital edition. Unlike a paper copy a digital edition of a newspaper or magazine is a relatively new concept. Digital editions do not pre-date the last couple of centuries. Since they exist in a digital space you won’t find one in your doctor’s office, or on the bench at the bus stop, or any physical location for that matter. Without the in-your-face organic reach of a print edition additional effort and resources are needed in order to reach prospective readers and create awareness to existing readers.
Likely the most obvious and cost-effective method to market the digital edition product is the print edition. Paper editions have an established market and distribution strategy. The cost is almost non-existent. However, there are not enough publications that are promoting the digital product within the paper edition. If very little energy and expense is being exhausted in the most-cost effective and simple platform to market the digital product it is safe to assume that even less is being spent elsewhere. Yet there are so many opportunities!
Readers cannot buy something that they do not know exists. That’s a less profound ethos.
Lack of product investment
Endless resources. Associated costs. A massive commitment is required to produce a publication worthy of a reader’s time and energy. The same level of commitment is required for the digital edition product. The digital edition must be a line item on the budget. A digital edition is an extension of the brand and as a result readers expect the same product quality found in the print edition, website, live event or any other related property.
“The digital edition must be a line item on the budget.”
Many digital magazines and newspapers are produced using free or low-cost platforms. Free, or limited cost models, often involve a trade-off for the capability of producing digital issues on the platform. Product limitations, lack of support, a developmentally outdated product or hidden fees are typical shortcomings of the free or near-free software model.
The cost of using free software extends well beyond a lack of product support.
One of the more common trade-offs of low fee publishing solutions is a third-party advertisement (such as Google Ads) inserted into the digital edition interface. How would a magazine advertiser be expected to react if a competing product ad was inserted into the digital publication interface in which they have committed their own dollars?
Third-party is not the only form of advertising used by low cost platforms. Many use their platform interface as an opportunity to promote their own brand with strategic logo placements and links to offers or additional information. Coincidentally there is often an additional fee to remove the platform branding and replace it with a custom logo.
Another common strategy offered by low cost platforms is to include ‘suggested reading materials’ in the viewing interface. This poses a risk as readers are driven to another title. With all of the effort required to entice readers to engage with a magazine why give them the opportunity to discover a competitor?
Although ‘free’ these platforms leverage magazine and newspaper publisher’s readership in order to promote their own product while generating more page views and consequently more digital ad revenue dollars.
There may not be an associated fee to publish using free software but there certainly is a cost.
What is the purpose of producing a newspaper or magazine? To tell a story or provide information.
“How easily can readers absorb the text as it appears in a digital magazine or newspaper edition?“
Forget the images. Disregard the graphics. How easily can readers absorb the text as it appears in a digital magazine or newspaper edition? Is it safe to assume that if a reader experiences difficulty ingesting the words, regardless of medium, that the relationship would not continue beyond a first impression? Yet many digital publications only offer basic zoom and pan tools in order to consume the text on the page. This type of basic page replication has not helped entrench publishers with their readers.
In a 2015 study by Mequoda respondents suggested that the most important functionalities of a digital magazine, by a very large margin, were readability (79%) and scrollable text (56%).
There is a timeworn riddle that asks ‘What is black, white, and re(a)d all over?’ The solution is a newspaper. The riddle was conceived with print in mind but it also needs to be applicable to a digital.
There are many digital publishing solutions that offer more than basic page replication. Choose one.
A paper edition that is sequestered in a warehouse where it is printed waiting for its readers to arrive seems like a ridiculous concept. Would anyone be content to rely on this passive delivery strategy for the survival of an information-based business? Of course not.
Newsies, paperboys, magazine racks, newsstands, and mail delivery exist (or have existed) because sales are produced through various physical delivery tactics. There is a required push in order to get the product in to the hands of the preferred audience.
“digital products also rely on delivery methods to reach their customers. Text. Email. Social media. Native Apps.”
Digital products require a similar strategy. Publishing a digital magazine or newspaper on a website is the equivalent to leaving stacks of paper editions in a cold warehouse. It assumes the reader is inherently compelled to seek out the product. That may be adequate for the most dedicated reader but will not suffice for most.
The nature of the delivery channel may differ, as compared to physical print copies, but digital products also rely on delivery methods to reach their customers. Text. Email. Social media. Native Apps. These are all cost-effective delivery options which allow the publisher to reach a ‘captive’ audience who have opted-in to receive communications from their brand.
Yet many publishers are not taking advantage of these basic techniques of reaching and recapturing a readers interest. Why?
A digital magazine or newspaper must be instantly visible when new traffic arrives. Returning to the warehouse analogy outlined previously a paper edition sitting in a warehouse will not receive the attention it deserves. What if the pallet containing the paper editions was stacked in the back of the warehouse? Away from doors, bathrooms, and foot traffic in general.
“A digital magazine or newspaper must be instantly visible when new traffic arrives.”
Posting a thumbnail with a link to the current edition somewhere on a website page does not suffice. The audience needs to be able to immediately identify where the digital magazine or newspaper can be found. New issues need to be posted prominently. Specific pages related to the digital edition should be created which provide access to the current and past issues if archives are available.
Hide and seek is not a good strategy.
Limited resource investment
Digital platforms typically offer a number of opportunities for publishers to further immerse their readers with multi-media integration.
Articles accompanied with video, audio, or additional images lend meaning to the words on the page. To the detriment of the reader very few digital editions include original or re-purposed multi-media content.
“To the detriment of the reader very few digital editions include original or re-purposed multi-media content.”
Another commonly overlooked enhancement is simple hyperlinking. Within the scope of a digital edition ‘If it looks like it should click – it should click’. That’s not always the case. Often website and email addresses remain un-clickable within a digital magazine or newspaper. Consider the reasons why a website address or email contact are contained on a printed page. The intention is to continue the interaction – elsewhere. From paper to digital. In a digital edition this interaction should be much easier to facilitate. For many digital publications website addresses and email addresses remain static.
Like any creative endeavour there is a certain amount of resources and coordination required. Without resource investment a digital product fails to meet its potential. A failture to meet potential leads to dissatisfied readers with unmet expectations.
Ineffective subscription models & pricing
Subscriptions require variety. A single title may have a paper edition, digital edition, an App, a website, special editions and archives for all of the aforementioned formats. Too often publishers offer a single subscription option for all of the above products. Universal pricing has worked for Netflix but that strategy does not apply to multiple unique products. Unique products are viewed by a unique audience and require a unique offering. Sell the products as such. The subscription options do not need to include every available permutation. Segmenting the options into paper, digital, and a paper + digital bundle is a start. Tweak the available options based on consumer demand and preference.
“Do not discount perceived value.”
A concerning subscription trend involves publishers offering their digital products heavily discounted (heavier discounts than print editions). The production costs might be reduced for digital. The same might be said for distribution costs. However, there is sufficient evidence that suggests consumers are willing to pay a price relative to the paper edition. We are the same species that pays a premium for bottled water. More importantly, if a reader chooses to purchase a ‘digital only’ subscription, for whatever reason, it suggests that they prefer or are at least are satisfied receiving the publication in that format.
Do not discount perceived value.
These are just a few of the factors that prevent digital editions from continued and expanded success in the marketplace. Many of the sins mentioned above share similar attributes - lack of sufficient resources. Any new business venture requires a level of commitment in order to achieve meaningful gain. You only get out what you put in.