Publishing’s Not Dead; it’s Just Hung Over

It was 2010, and Steve Jobs famously launched the iPad and ushered in what many expected to be the age of the digital magazine.

The publishing industry, still reeling from the economic downturn, scrambled to engage a digital audience and looked to magazine apps as “the next big thing,” revolutionizing the way magazines are read. Industry pundits have a field day with the whole “print is dead” thing.

Except it wasn’t. The publishing revolution, it is clear now, will not be tabletized.

“In those heady days of early book app development,” writes Nick Coveny in This Day Live, “publishers commissioned developers in a landscape much more like the Wild West than you’d believe possible unless you’d experienced it first-hand.”

He explains that while the territory seemed rife with opportunity, “developer costs were extremely high – as were industry expectations – and consumer interest was practically non-existent. Which often led to digital ghost towns rather than the envisioned gold mines.”

“Was it good for you? No, it wasn’t good for me either,” he notes.

I’ve written quite a bit about the unfulfilled promise of digital magazines and the point of peak tablet uptake – and the ad sales that were supposed to go along with them. It’s not them; it’s us, as Coveny explains.

“In the digital space, publishers are not yet meeting an existing user demand for innovative narrative experiences – because there isn’t a demand to meet,” he explains. And he makes an interesting assertion:

“The human race evolved with literature, in its physical printed forms, at its heart for centuries. But for books to retain that central place in the future we need to claim the digital reading space. We need to experiment and explore to help consumers discover the new reading experiences awaiting them.”

That’s going to be a challenge, as we know that readers prefer print books and magazines. At the same time, we know a lot of folks do like their e-books, although Coveny notes the experience has “lost its shine” for most readers, and cloud-based reading experiences are gaining in popularity.

The electronic publishing industry is being forced to grow up, and look to delivery methods that do appeal to consumers.

“To me, it feels as though we’ve woken from the digital hangover of the early ‘10s and found that we still have many more exciting, and commercial opportunities, to explore – but that we do need to be careful and considered in how we approach untested models and markets,” Coveny explains.

Until consumers actually want what a digital publishing experience can offer, forcing it on them in a form they don’t love is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.