From the digitisation of physical books to digital-first online editions, digital publishing has evolved through the years.
This guide explores digital publishing, including the different types available, digital publishing platforms, emerging trends, and a comparison between print and digital publishing.
Digital publishing is the process of publishing media for consumption on the web or via electronic devices. The media in question can take many formats, from blogs to videos and beyond. However, typically digital publishing refers to long-form content such as e-books, reports, electronic journals, digital magazines, or white papers. It also includes the digitisation of more traditional print media such as magazines or newspapers.
Digital publishing should take into account the devices used by potential readers, whether that be desktop computers, phones, tablets, or e-readers. It also doesn’t have any physical print distribution costs as is the case with traditional print media. Instead, digital media is often distributed through websites, online stores, apps, electronic journals, or social media and in some cases, a subscription may be needed to do so. Some content creators may also choose to print certain digital media such as PDFs in a physical format depending on audience preference and engagement – but that all comes down to preference and audience insights.
What is a digital publisher?
A digital publisher is a company that prepares and distributes media to users in a digital format, usually through the internet. This can cover a huge range of digital formats, with digital publishers producing video games, movies, music, or software for consumption online, for example. However, for this article, the term ‘digital publishers’ refers to companies that create and distribute digital publications and long-form content such as digital magazines, e-books, electronic journals, or white papers.
Digital publishing platforms are designed to streamline the creation of content for online or digital displays. For example, the software can be used to prepare digital publications for different formats, channels, and devices, and can be used to transform replica content for digital distribution too. There’s also recently been an increase in digital self-publishing platforms, especially for those looking to publish books for e-readers. As a result, the barrier to digital publishing is typically lower than traditional print publishing which opens up a world of creativity.
Digital publishers avoid the need for physical printed materials and any related costs associated with traditional print publishing. However, as digital media is consumed through electronic devices, it needs to be responsive and accessible to screen readers and there’s a perception that this must be time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be.
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Digital publishing trends
Early digital publishing began as a way of digitalising physical publications for better access. Documents and publications could be digitised and accessed first through CDs and then shared via the internet. Scanning and archiving of physical publications also continued as digital catalogues and libraries increased.
The aim of digital publishing in its early phases was to replicate the publishing process digitally. As physical publishing processes were changing and evolving with new desktop publishing software, so too were online publications. New digital formats were also appearing, with blogs and online encyclopaedias becoming incredibly popular.
A transition from physical publications to either a hybrid or online-first model has gathered pace over the last decade, with newspapers and publishing houses adapting to evolving audience behaviour. With the increased popularity of the smartphone and social media platforms, the way people access and read publications has changed considerably. As such, digital publishing now also requires integration with different apps and social media platforms so that content is readily available on the go.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, digital publishing revenues in the UK stood at £174 million, up by 13.4% compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.
There’s no doubt that the digital boom has changed digital publishing forever, with one major change being the way digital content is monetised. Online content is in more demand than ever, but the question remains on the best revenue model, whether that be content supported by adverts or a subscription and paywall system.
However, regardless of which camp you’re in, a move towards mobile computing means that it’s vital that digital publications are responsive and accessible. With digital publishing continuing to grow alongside better analytics on user behaviours and interests, this feedback loop and a reader-first approach mean audience insights are powering digital publishers more than ever. As such, catering content for specific demographics and interests will only grow alongside these audience insights.
Print vs digital publishing
Although many physical printing presses remain, we’ve witnessed a shift towards a hybrid or digital-only model, as the way users consume content changes. Research shows that in the fourth quarter of 2021, digital publishing revenues in the United Kingdom (UK) stood at £174 million, up by 13.4% compared to the fourth quarter of 2020.
This may be influenced by the fact that print publishing is more resource-intensive than digital publishing because of the use of physical materials. The cost of producing a digital publication is therefore much lower and generally happens in less time. The transformation of physical publications into a digital format is also easier than ever with solutions like Canvasflow.
Also, it’s naturally easier to amend and edit digital publications after they’re published. With physical publishing, a new print run is required to fix spelling or factual errors whereas digital publications can often be tweaked and updated, so an amendment can be added after the deadline. However, some may argue that this helps to uphold the quality of print publications.
Digital publications can also embrace interactive features that go beyond print media. For example, video or audio content can be embedded in digital publications as interactive elements to improve the experience of the reader. For advertisers, this can transform their media campaigns and with granular analytics available, return on ad spend is easier to measure. While physical publishing may report on the number of copies sold, digital publications can report on page views, traffic sources, and reader demographics in more detail.
Digital publications can also embrace interactive features that go beyond print media.
Print and digital publishing are often used in tandem, where companies provide an initial physical print to meet demand and then create a digital version for new audiences, including Gen Z. There is extra cost involved in preparing print and digital versions but a hybrid approach means a combined value from both processes.
Digital publication examples
Digital publications are often used to promote services and products with key examples including digital brochures and online newsletters or exist as the product itself – such as e-books or magazines.
Digital publishing is an ever-evolving concept, especially as we move away from physical printing as the sole publication process. For this reason, some digital publications exist solely digitally, while others are still intrinsically connected to their physical alternative. Online versions of a physical newspaper are an example of a hybrid approach in which e-readers, phones and tablets can access the digital edition of a newspaper. Tesco magazine is an example of a free publication which is both a physical and digital publication, engaging audiences in unique ways.
However, some examples of digital publications exist solely in a digital form. Electronic journals or digital brochures are examples of content that’s designed to be read on digital devices only. Digital-only publications have scope for including interactive content like audio, videos, and animations and often create a more engaging reader experience. Though in many cases, readers of digital publications are also able to download and print a copy if required.
Common examples of digital publications include:
- Online magazines and newsletters
- Digitised print books
- Digital editions of newspapers
- Electronic journals
- Blogs and guides
- Digital research and white papers
- Marketing material and digital brochures and catalogues.
Digital publishing platforms
Digital publishing platforms are specialist companies which provide users with the ability to publish and distribute media online. A digital publishing platform allows companies to create and deploy content across different channels. Digital publishing platforms will typically include some of the interactive elements mentioned above to help improve engagement on digital devices, and optimise the reader experience across different devices like tablets, desktops, and phones.
Why you should use a digital publishing platform
Using a digital publishing platform brings many benefits to both the content producer and the reader. For content creators and businesses, the digital publishing process is quicker and more cost-effective compared to traditional print productions. Instead of creating a set amount of physical publications, digital editions can be read on-demand, helping you to scale and grow your audience more efficiently.
Digital editions can also support other digital marketing campaigns, offering a seamless transition between a business’s services and publications. In addition, digital publishing platforms provide insights and analytics to help influence editorial and business decisions.
For readers, a digital publishing platform means that the content is accessible and responsive across different devices. This means a much higher engagement rate and the ability to read and interact with the publication whenever and wherever the reader wants. Digital publications can also include different formats of content, enhancing storytelling with video, animation, or audio.
There are many benefits to using a digital publishing platform, including:
- Interactive content
- Lower resource cost
- Access on demand
- Responsive for all devices
- Improved analytics
- More marketing opportunities
Digital publications are not only online editions of physical content, they have their unique qualities as part of the digital domain. Interactive content can bring your story to life, embedding images, animations, audio, and video in new and exciting ways. Interactive content can help to improve engagement and take your publication to new levels.
Lower resource cost
Digital publishing platforms can save both time and money compared to traditional publishing alternatives. Although the content creation process is similar, the production and distribution steps are more efficient with digital publications. Less of an initial investment means a better eventual return on your publications, too.
Digital publications are inherently scalable, as they can be accessed by new audiences without any distribution or printing costs. Users can seek out and download the publication in their own time, and access it from different social media platforms and channels. Digital publications broaden the range of users and readers that can access your content. Plus, ‘share’ features can mean your publications get an organic boost in readership.
Responsive with all devices
A good digital publication platform will ensure digital content is fully compatible and responsive across different devices. This means the publication will be available whether readers are accessing content on their phones, tablets, e-reader or computer. Accessibility is a huge factor in ensuring your content is engaging for all potential readers. The best digital publications will be fully accessible to assistive reader technology, too.
Gone are the days of estimated reader numbers, as an all-in-one digital publishing platform will provide in-depth insights and analytics to content producers. Content performance, user behaviour, demographics, and user journeys are some insights used to improve editorial and marketing decisions. Improved access to analytics means informed business decisions and a better return on investment.
More marketing opportunities
Digital publications can be shared and accessed across a range of different channels, including social media platforms, search engines, paid advertising, email campaigns and beyond. Promotion can therefore be included in your existing marketing strategies, with no additional printing costs to manage. The publications can also promote your business, organisation, or services, with call-to-action buttons moving users across your service.
One powerful platform for digital publishing
The Canvasflow digital publishing platform is a code-free way of creating, designing and publishing captivating, interactive content. Its easy and intuitive to use, yet provides a professional level of publishing capabilities. So you can publish accessible, interactive content directly to your channel of choice.
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