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Maria McCann Field Marketing Acquia

How can publishers better retain customers who appear to be moving from print products to digital competitors?

The opportunities for publishers are bountiful. There are some great examples of publishers that are thinking differently about their future growth and creating engaging new digital aspects to their offering. Recent research by The Association of Magazine Media showed that readership is increasing for many publications compared to 12 months ago. The largest increase in this ‘readership’ can be seen in consumers accessing content by mobile devices and the consumption of video.

Today, you can’t be a one-dimensional publisher (either all print or all digital) you need to adopt a blended approach. Condé Nast, for example, recently announced that it was renewing a third of its original web programming. Metrics have proven that their seven digital video channels launched last year have drawn high rates of participation by users. Another publisher getting it right is Hubert Burda Media, the German publishing company present in 12 countries. It publishes some leading consumer magazine brands in the UK and is at the forefront of building new digital brands around its titles.


The challenge right now isn’t how publishers can stop customers from migrating towards digital competitors, but how they can transform themselves into multichannel businesses offering digital in all forms, as well as print. By evolving, these one-dimensional publishers will find themselves able to compete in the same space as the new digital upstarts. But, it isn’t just print to online, conversely, some online brands are seeing big benefits in moving into print as well. Asos.com and netaporter.com are both examples of online fashion stores using printed magazines as an additional way to connect and inspire their customers.

social sharing of content doesn't devalue the business model, but helps build the brand. The simple fact is that publishers increase their revenue when more readers access, consume and value interesting content.

Maria McCann, Acquia

The Economist, a magazine launched in 1843 that has not only survived for 150+ years but has flourished in the new digital landscape and is now recognised as a leader in digital transformation. Where other traditional print-based outlets have failed to adapt and have been swallowed up by the digital tidal wave, The Economist has thrived. It has grown its digital and online editions, while retaining its print readership, by adapting to the expectations and demands of its audience. The publisher has worked hard on creating engaging new interactive experiences using latest technologies like javascript frameworks. Its Economist Essays provide brilliant interactive content with an amazing user experience. Online readers demand an interactive experience, with the ability to share content, participate in discussions and ‘meet’ like-minded people. The Economist has met these expectations and reaped the rewards in increased subscriptions to both its digital and print publications.

Alongside the content ‘channels’, publishers need to look to a transformative model to become a true multichannel publisher and realise the opportunities to emphasise and then monetise their content in new ways. They need to utilise the tools available that allow dynamic publishing of new content and repurposing based on the format, whether e-books, websites, apps or other digital editions, to add value by creating interaction with the reader. Media company Bonnier Media which started as a book publisher in 1804 has taken transformation to a new level by opening up a growth group, Toca Boca which has launched many leading apps for children in its series.  

The latest experience platforms provide tools that allow content to be optimised for search engines. Publishers can enrich their content with tags, or metadata meaning readers can easily read a digest of reports or related content, dynamically aggregated from disparate sources, personalised to their interests, and presented as a single publication.

Some publishers have shied away from social media, fearing sharing of their content will somehow devalue it. On the contrary, there is a need to recognise that social sharing of content doesn’t devalue the business model, but helps build the brand. The simple fact is that publishers increase their revenue when more readers access, consume and value interesting content.

Those print publishers who embrace the digital as an opportunity and seek out the technological tools available to help them succeed in making the transition to multichannel publishers, will find they have little to fear from their digital-only rivals.