At the PPA’s Independent Publisher Conference, I was asked to contribute 4 points to a series on ’20 things you need to know about Digital Publishing’.

Condensing the issues faced by publishers into four points was a challenge, but here are the important developments that I think Independent Publishers should know.


#1 Native apps aren’t the only way forward

Many publishers have found that apps are far from the Holy Grail they promised to be, and are doing little to prop up the decline in print. Unless app editions are really something extraordinary (or the publisher is large with spending power), it’s likely to be an uphill battle to generate significant, constant interest in it.

For independent publishers, there is a difficult balance to draw where digital content has to be cost-effective to produce and distribute, it has to be mobile-responsive, and also has to pay for itself.

Web apps are one example of an alternative way to distribute content digitally without committing to the expense of an app. Users can still have the app experience, but it’s online rather than a download to their phone.

Web-based publishing may well be a winner for small publishers. It has the highest potential reach: the whole internet compared to those on a select device or operating system. Being available on the web makes content available to the maximum potential audience, and effectively it’s covering all the bases (desktop, tablet, phone) with responsive HTML.

Of course, both native apps and web apps are the answer if the publisher has the budget – Harrods magazine are a fantastic example where content is edited in one CMS, and pushed out to both a responsive online web app and a native app. Apps still have mileage yet (if developed and marketed in the right way, of course!) but independent publishers shouldn’t get stuck by thinking that they’re the only option for ‘going digital’.

#2 Experiment with free channels

Huge strides have been made this year with social, and everyone seems eager to get a slice of the publishing pie. There is increasing recognition in the media industry that people are spending 90% of their time on mobile in just 3 or 4 apps, and these are usually social apps such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

The power of social certainly shouldn’t be dismissed – Facebook is proving it can take on Google as the top referrer to publisher’s sites.


From the discussions in all our Tech Talks with publishers, we know that it is an unfamiliar landscape, and understandably, caution needs to be taken before jumping straight in. However, using social to distribute is (for the most part) completely free, and is worth spending a little time and effort experimenting with.

Social always comes with a health warning, and using social channels just for the sake of it will not produce successful results. Publishers must consider what content is going out and what they hope to achieve on each platform – Twitter won’t be right for one brand/title but will be ideal for another.

#3 The ‘issue’ mindset is on its way out – get creative!

The concept of an issue comes from the print mindset, particularly the monthly issue. We can’t expect users to behave the same way in the digital environment and await the digital monthly issue going live as eagerly as they did the print issue dropping onto their doormat.

The Economist are a good example of reaching out this way. They have a range of monthly and weekly editions, but their newest (award-winning) app release is ‘Espresso’, which delivers a ‘shot’ of 5 news stories each morning. This encourages daily engagement with the app, and is specifically targeting morning commuters.

This newsletter-type delivery is how everyone is engaging with digital. Imagine if Facebook worked by delivering a digital bundle of all your friend’s updates once a month to your phone – it would be overwhelming! Little and often is a good approach to take when thinking about re-inventing digital ‘issues’.

#4 Users are expecting a lot more from digital

This point can seem a little overwhelming when many independent publishers are struggling to find their feet in the digital world, but it is an important point to bear in mind for the next year or two.

Everyone has been struggling with monetisation, but we’ve recently seen a client of ours use personalisation to turn their digital app strategy around. TES segment their digital audience into seven streams which each deliver focused and relevant articles. At a recent conference, TES used their media partnership to drive a special stream of conference-themed articles and commentary to delegates on a dedicated login.

Giving users the ability to control a personalised feed of topics has further driven engagement amongst teachers and readers of TES.

This approach could be extremely useful to Independent Publishers in their monetisation strategies. ‘Digital Packages’ can be sold which offer premium experiences to members, such as webinars, training and CPD.

Personalisation is not a new concept in itself, but TES shows that it can be done with very little effort or extra writing. Apps are approaching the next stage where they can be places full of relevant articles, CPD, breaking news and traditional issues.

Carefully targeting content that many publishers are already producing is a clever way of adding value to your digital content and can be done through just one app.

These are 4 very different points, but are hopefully useful in addressing some of the challenges that Independent Publishers are facing.

Get in touch with us – we’d be happy to talk these over or offer advice!


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