Digital-first publishing

What I had thought prior to MPub was that digital content for publishers was mainly to supplement the content. It is fascinating to see some publishers move to a digital content-centric publishing and marketing strategies. I recognize that this may be a rise in digital content publishing in the next several years.

I think of it this way: because word of mouth sharing and recommendations is still the biggest way people discovery the books they read or buy according to BookNet Canada’s report on the English market in Canada. But the way we communicate those word of mouth recommendations is increasingly online through social media and instant messaging. Now if we come across anything we like online and think a friend or family member would like it, you can so easily and instantly link it to them through dark social.

In Harlequin’s video-centric marketing strategy, they share that 90% of consumers say video helps them make buying decisions. If such a large percentage of your readership is trusting digital content like for Harlequin, then it would not be so much of a stretch to see them also create a digital only imprint like Penguin Random House’s Penguin Petit. In these cases, this content needs to be good enough in its form to stand on its own and not seem like it is supplemental content. For new and growing publishers, it is this point that I think is most important for them in introducing digital content to their business plan. It must be digital-content first publishing or else it may just seem like it is adding to the noise.

While it is convenient to have your favourite book accessible to you in any format you please: print, ebook, audiobook, etc. Digital-first publishing would need to exist first, only available as a digital format (at least, at first) and optimized for that format. As I have introduced and discussed in class before, Webtoons (webcomics with a vertical layout) would be one case that does this extremely well. Essentially webtoons have transformed and innovated the art of comic storytelling in a way that only works to be read digitally with the infinite scroll-type experience. Webtoons simply would not be the same experience if it was printed as a book, and arguably its purpose is completely defeated if it was to be printed.

For new and growing publishers to include digital content I would recommend if they want to publish digital content, it must be solely on a new imprint. First they would need to recognize that there is a potential audience for their imprint too. The new imprint would help to differentiate from their main publications and so that it does not seem like it is supplemental material. It must be digital-first publication with print, ebook and audio formats being the one that supplements the content down the line (or maybe it would not work out at all, like with webtoons as I’ve said). After the imprint is established, publishers can play with how the content release is being staggered or episodic to retain audience engagement because of the evidence people don’t read until the end and getting to the level of deep reading for online content is a challenge. Overall, publishers would need to strongly consider how the user experience of digital content software to overcome these challenges needs to be optimized for it to work.


One Reply to “Digital-first publishing”

  1. I think when we were coming up with this blog post question about how to introduce more digital content into the publishing business, I expected lots of people to talk about audiobook and ebook innovations, but most people have gone much in depth than that.

    Instead, like you’ve talked about, we need to go deeper than just introducing digital content. We need to think carefully about why we’re doing it, which has lead to many conclusions about accessibility and readability. We need to get the basic format down first before we add more bells and whistles; and I think there will be plenty of trial and error as we work to figure out which content fits best with each format.

    Also, thank you for drawing our attention to Webtoons again as an example. Have you noticed alternative digital formats like this growing? And if so, how quickly? Is the Webtoons model being emulated by others?

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