We’re deep into the age of digital publishing. Do the needs of yesterday still stand today?

In 2012, a survey from the Pew Research Centre and The Economist found that 60% of Americans under the age of 40 preferred to read conventional print-like versions of newspapers and lifestyle magazines on their tablets rather than interactive ones.

According to the study, doing away with supplementary elements such as video and audio was a good move if you wanted to keep your readers happy. Unfortunately, this meant upsetting the 40% who did enjoy interactive elements, and found that text was complemented by its addition.

Whatever way you looked at it, it was evident that digital publishers had been left with a bit of a predicament: copy print and keep a narrow majority happy, or innovate only to please fewer.

Digital disorientation

I would hazard a guess that back then, the most common complaint of those 60% of readers who preferred print-like digitisations to digital feats of interactivity was of disorientation. Having to flit your attention from text to video and back again, and then onto the next article often leads to the feeling that you may be missing something from the overall publication. (This is exactly why Page Lizard apps run PDF page-view and HTML text-view versions side-by-side, each only ever a double-tap away!).

Naturally, some kind of a middle-ground where conventional print meets occasional interactivity is the ideal that many digital publishers have strived to achieve, and the resulting compromise may well have largely pleased the masses… but not for much longer, it seems.

For publications with digital counterparts, the number of digital readers is only ever on the up. As this new readership grows in confidence with their tablets and new digital editions, a yearning for innovation seems to have naturally arisen.

Times are a-changing

We no longer appear to live in a world where print takes the foreground and digitisations are something of a flourishing secondary, and the findings of that 2012 study at the cusp of the ‘digital age of publishing’ don’t seem to hold quite so fast any more. The climate for ‘safe’ digital versions that inoffensively mimic what is on the print page and go no further is on the decline, and the desire – nay, the need – for engaging functions like video, audio and social media is apparent.

Recently at Page Lizard, we’ve had a massive influx of publishers pining for more interactive features based on customer feedback. As well as embedded podcasts and YouTube videos, Social media functionality in particular has piqued the interest of our clients, and now a number of their apps have a ‘share and comment’ feature at the bottom of every article, regularly generating comments and discussions.

I should mention that, when it comes to interactivity, there is a line that should be drawn. Bringing your publication up to speed with technology and trends is one thing, but embellishing what began as a print publication with animations and slideshow effects may well evoke memories of a 10-year-old let loose on Microsoft PowerPoint, and is best avoided for everyone’s sake.

The important thing is variety. We are now deep in a digital age: our reliance on smartphones and tablets is only growing, as is our confidence. So long as information can be displayed clearly, accessibly and on-brand, there seems to be little harm in supporting text with a video, or podcast.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think – leave a comment or tweet us!

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