Digital publishing: How it will evolve in 2014 and beyond

I recently attended Le Web in Paris, where the theme of the conference was innovation in the next decade. It got me to thinking about where we go with publishing. Even on Google, you won’t be able to find an article on publishing trends from the 1440s, the decade after Johannes Gutenberg introduced movable type printing to Europe. But if you did, it would probably focus more on the gloomy outlook for the illuminated manuscript industry than on the then-unfolding print revolution, which launched cascading innovations that would change everything and usher in the Age of Enlightenment.

Something similar is at work today: Digital publishing is now a mature, thriving industry, and yet many still insist that publishing is in its death throes. Book publishers know better: While hardcover sales declined slightly between 2008 and 2012 (from $5.2 billion to $5 billion), eBook sales grew at an astonishing clip during that period, rising from $64 million to $3 billion. And while digital publications are typically sold at a lower per-unit cost, profit margins are much higher – from 41 percent to 75 percent as publishers make the transition from print to digital.

Kindle Fire HDX 8.9

Content is thriving more now than ever before. The book transition that in large part has been ushered in by Amazon is succeeding because, rather than relying on an old infrastructure to sell and distribute books, authors and creators are now able to use technology to connect directly with their audience. The days of huge organizations needed to market a particular title or even entourages travelling from one bookstore to the next are over. Authors and creators can do what they’re best at, and platforms can enable them to directly connect with their readers.

Despite the growing pains that accompany any major transition, publishers will be in a strong position in 2014 and beyond. But what trends will drive the evolution of digital publishing? How will the integration of mobile devices and cloud-based platforms affect the way people experience published content? Here are three broad trends that will play a key role:

    Author Neil Gaiman is active on Twitter.

    Author Neil Gaiman is active on Twitter.

  1. Twitter as the tip of the iceberg: The rise of short-form communication platforms like Twitter has some in the long-form content industry convinced that consumers will eventually balk at reading anything that contains more than 140 characters. But a closer examination of what people are sharing via Twitter reveals that the platform often serves as a flag alerting followers to longer form content. Rather than replacing articles and other long-form features, Twitter is often used to promote them – providing a 140-character tip of the iceberg that points to the rich content experience lurking below the surface. Twitter and beacon distribution alerts signal that those ideas for which we have passion are accessible, more so now than ever before.
  2. Medium

  3. New long-form content discovery venues: One thing digital publishing offers that print publications can’t match is a new way to form and participate in special-interest communities where readers can share and discover even more relevant content. Whether the topic is model trains, gluten-free living, longboarding, cross-country skiing, Paris fashion, gardening or virtually any other interest, it’s now possible for readers to come together digitally to discuss the issues they feel passionate about and create and share content for their unique communities. It’s like having a virtual global newsstand and salon devoted to everyone’s favorite topic.
  4. Growth in ad spending: The outlook for digital ad spending remains strong for 2014 and beyond, with digital ad spending accounting for nearly 22 percent of all U.S. ad spending (almost $110 billion total) in 2013, an increase over 2012, when digital ad spending accounted for 19 percent of the U.S. total. And there is ample reason for continued optimism, not only because of the data, but because of digital’s unique value proposition: Online and mobile platforms allow advertisers to identify reader activities, locations and interests in real time and serve targeted, highly-relevant ads enhanced with clickable actions, a capability print can’t touch.

Publishing is alive and well as we move into 2014 and beyond. In fact, as digital platforms evolve, it’s stronger than ever. Twitter has become a leading global source for breaking news, information and entertainment, and millions of users are tweeting links to long-form content in 140-characters or less. Online communities are forming around digital publishing platforms, giving people around the world who share common interests a place to come together to read and create content on the issues they’re passionate about. Advertisers are recognizing the value digital publishing delivers: Access to readers with measurable presence and interests. There’s never been a more exciting time for the industry – at least, not since Gutenberg’s day.

Joe Hyrkin is Chief Executive Officer at Issuu, a digital publishing platform.