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FerroGate » 7 Cases to Show You How Digital Publishing Does Not Compete With Print

7 Cases to Show You How Digital Publishing Does Not Compete With Print

January 6th, 2009 by Martin

Sorry for stating in the title what’s obvious to you educated readers. But after reading a highly qualified rant by Kassia Krozser’s over at Booksquare, it’s clear that publishers think differently. Luckily Kassia spells it out to them:

Ebooks are a new, different market. You, dear publishers, have been given that rarest of gifts: a new revenue stream (think: home video for the motion picture business). These books are not competition. While there are more than a few readers who would love the luxury of choice of format/style/device when it comes to purchasing and reading books (you’re reading one), the ebook customer is different than the print book customer. Even if your ebook sales are growing by leaps and bounds each quarter, they’re nowhere near the volume that print achieves.

Now while this post mostly deals with the sale and pricing of commercial ebooks, it does very much touch the issue of how publishers tackle new media. Hopefully the myth of (free or low-cost) digital distribution cannibalizing on print sales is no longer alive, intelligibly, in the publishing industry. But putting that knowledge into action is the problem we’re facing now: Show me the publisher that actually has to guts to take the consequence of that knowledge?

OK, I’ll show you. The more cases we can bring to light, the more we can show publishers that digital (doesn’t have to) hurt. I should add that in practice the web with it’s wonderful and often buggy or inadequate technologies, almost never delivers readymade solutions. Rather, the publisher needs to shop around, research and put together his own patchwork of services, applications, widgets, websites and social networks. And I think it’s figuring out the right mix for the individual publisher that makes the jump to digital harder than it ought to be.

A few cases of digital publishing I really like

1. Bantam Dell (A Random House Division)
These guys know they have great writers. Taking on the same approach as film companies; the most powerful marketing tool here being the movie trailer; Bantam Dell is showcasing excerpts of upcoming book. Sounds trivial? They are also building complete brand experiences around their books, and a few days ago they even launched an entire platform for crime fiction. Their previous book launched this way made the NYT bestseller list directly as number three. So, obviously they’re doing something right.

2. JPG Mag
Although it may or may not be headed for the deadpool, it’s a fantastic way of using the web (in essence a social community for photosharing) to leverage discussion and data accumulation (photo submissions). The finest of all that goes into print, which many are inclined to buy, to see if their shots made the final cut. I had a few comments on that in relation to a recent Scoble post.

3. Amsterdam Weekly
Facing an impending shortage of funding, English language newspaper Amsterdam Weekly decided to fight. They first split up the magazine into bits and pieces and sold it to their readers. They then published the next edition, without the unsold bits! It may have been a gimmick to generate buzz, but nonetheless they are still here, 10 months later, and very much in both digital and print.

4. Boxoffice
Published since the 1920, Boxoffice is probably the oldest movie magazine out there. Today it’s a free magazine, but what about that massive back catalog? Instead of collecting dust somewhere, it should be collecting new readers online. And that’s what they did: They OCR’d the non-digital issues and uploaded the whole thing (2716 issues so far) to Issuu. Not just excerpts, but the whole thing. For instance, when the new version of The Day the Earth Stood Still came out, I used this archive to find the original review from 1951!

Now all their magazines are ‘marketing’ Boxoffice’s website and is very much findable on Google etc. When readers go to the website, they will actually be asked to subscribe to read the latest issue online, and those signups is very valuable for building the membership base (something which was much harder to do, without the promise of free content). I addition, all those digital clicks are monitored and will make a better case, next time they have to pitch to advertises.

A few more
5. Freedarko created mindblowing widgets, with preview chapters of their NBA book that were quickly embedded on top-notch blogs resulting in hundreds of thousands views.

6. Standerd magazine took all their back issues online, created a highly customized environment that fit their brand, and used the real estate to show some love to their sponsors and fish for more subscribers.

7. Bike to Work is a selfpublished book, that relies solely on social media, blogging, podcasting and digital publishing to market itself. The book isn’t out yet, but the buzz is picking up. Certainly any publisher, corporate or freelancer, could learn how to start conversations by observing a certain Carlton Reid, one of the two co-authors.

Now, while all the cases to some extent are using Issuu and Issuu Platform (full disclosure: I’m very much part of Issuu), I mention these cases mainly because I have first hand knowledge of them. But Issuu is just one of the tools publishers should use, and there are a number of similar services out there (Calameo, Yudu, Zmags etc.). But what’s important to stress, is that publishers need to embrace more than one of the popular digital services to successfully market their content (be it new, upcoming or old). Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, to just name a few of the obviuos. The good news is that most of them are free, fun and pretty harmless (but potentially very effective) once you get the hang of it. So, jump in, that’s really the only way to learn what it’s all about. What’s the worst that could happen? Too many inbound links you didn’t get before?

I often feel like publishers think in opposite terms: Do we go with A) digital or B) print, where one seem to rule out the other. In reality, the shift to digital is not about choosing A or B, but finding out: What’s the core value of your publishing business and how do you use print AND digital (and whatever else you can think of) to get that value to the market and convert it to dollars. Digital is not the opposite of print, it’s a supplement, and understanding what it can do is what still is needed on the part of the publishers.

On a final note, I should add that all the examples are with either free, ad-based or promotional content. Why? Because on the web, free is by far the most successful approach: Show people something they want to see, then find a way to make money from that attention. Not the other way around, which, I’m afraid, most pu
blishers are accustomed to (service announcement: If you want to go the old route online, charging before enticing, you could use a service like Zinio, although I think you would get more out of mixing the strategies mentioned above).

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