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Digital publishing: How it will evolve in 2014 and beyond

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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.

10 Responses to “Digital publishing: How it will evolve in 2014 and beyond”

  1. Wojtek Szywalski

    The author touched very important aspect of digital publishing of all kinds which is promotion. The most successful authors recognize this and build huge networks of fans and followers. Twitter and Facebook plays here very important role as they are natural ecosystems gathering people of all walks of life. Twitter is more B2B and Facebook B2C orientated platform but author who make living on their digital publications make it big on both networks.

    In the nutshell. Authors are dropping out big publishers but they have to fill the gap and become more marketing savvy to build their distribution networks. Unfortunately neither Amazon nor App Store are not a marketing platforms. They have very limited marketing capabilities after all they are stores.

    There are, however, digital publishers who try to fill this gap themselves providing built in marketing/growth hacking mechanisms.

  2. Good post about how digital publishing is marking its presence in the publishing industry. Now-a-days many people are more dependent on online information than the printed content. With the evolution of digital era, the publishing industry is also changing. Now there are also various publishing platforms by which people can reach to the global audience. And this is the main advantage that make the digital publishing more appealing than the traditional publishing.

  3. MJ Summers

    Thank you, Joe for the informative article. As a new indie author, I’m constantly trying to make sure I catch the next wave. (MJ Summers – Break in Two)

  4. Werner Rebsamen

    The slight decline in hardcover are only related to “traditional” titles. Non-traditional and photo book hardcovers are going through the roof!
    Prof. Werner Rebsamen RIT

  5. Frederick Tubiermont

    we love @medium, we’ve just published three articles there which got a good traction over the last 3 days (read on We will also modestly contribute to the evolution of digital publishing with our exciting mobile web app,, which will enable anyone to create free mobile apps instantly in the browser of their mobile phone. You can see a short live demo here: Launching in a few days. Fingers crossed ;-)

  6. Peter Turner

    While it’s pretty clear publishing has indeed entered a “golden era,” I’m not so sure the same can be said for reading. The sheer volume of content being published is completely outstripping our means of discovery. In the realm of digital books, for instance, the number of books being produced doubled in just 3 years, and that leaves aside the books published digitally on Kindle via indie- or self-publishers.