Seven Smart Digital Publishing Ideas

Seven Smart Digital Publishing Ideas

Seven Smart Digital Publishing ideas

What are some of the latest trends in digital publishing and how are other media owners experimenting in developing new revenues?

This is the script of a webinar I presented for InPublishing.  You can listen to the full recording here.

I spend a lot of time meeting publishers, listening to their challenges around digital media, and also going to events and conferences where people speak about their digital projects and how they are working for audiences and the business. This presentation is my collection of trends and tips, ideas and examples….

The challenging media environment

Whether we like it or not, digital media is revolutionising the industry formerly known as publishing….

Mobile is increasingly the first device people turn to for information, advice, entertainment and news.

We’re all editors and publishers now – broadcasting our ideas to a wider audience is as simple as a few thumbstrokes.

Our first instinct if we like something or rate a piece of content is to share it with our personal or professional network – and we spend so much time on these platforms, it’s getting to be where we discover new stuff as well.

Images, charts, audio and above all video grab the attention far more easily than simple text, however beautifully crafted.

The world is in our readers pocket 24/7 – hurrah! But …… so are all the world’s competitors. And the minimum standards of user experience and ease of use are being set – I know it’s unfair – by global tech giants, continually raising expectations of readers which poor publishers have to match.

So with new competitors and new rules, publishers are going to have to evolve fast or die.

There is some good news – plenty of publishers are working out some pretty innovative ways to get closer to their audience and generate new revenues from digital media.

Here’s seven smart ideas, a bunch of case studies, and some useful tips to get you and your team thinking differently.


  1. Invite readers to share content

In professional and specialist consumer markets, readers are often experts. Inviting them to share their knowledge and opinions with the rest of the community creates compelling content and builds loyalty.

The Times Educational Supplement, TES, has been developing its online platform for paid resources written by its teacher community. They encourage authors to create more resources to achieve higher status, more promotions and improved commissions, with a tiered set of benefits based on number of resources posted. They share info on top searches to encourage resources in hot topic areas, and have also developed an author community with online networking and live events. Top authors can even create their own online shop. owned by Meredith, reaches a community of 40m home cooks who contribute their own recipes, and rate, comment and share each others.

Huffington Post has famously built its content around unpaid bloggers, but has provided support and advice to aspiring writers.

Accounting Web has an established forum with an “any answers” section where members can help solve each others problems.

Think about how you could encourage those of your readers with an expert opinion to share their views and contribute content. As well as building an authentic voice for your brand or publication this can strengthen loyalty and reinforce the sense of community.


  1. Embrace social distribution

Even traditional publishers, such as Harvard Business Review and The Economist are seeing a rapidly growing proportion of their traffic referred from social media platforms, principally Facebook, Linked In and twitter.

Some new media brands, such as AJ+, a news service for Millennials spun out of Al Jazeera, distribute their content almost exclusively on social platforms, with a particular emphasis on short video news items. They now have over 300k followers worldwide on twitter.

The Economist has a ten-strong social media marketing team and monitors the impact of its activity on multiple platforms very carefully. It reaches 20m people on social, and has built up an email database of 400k to whom it markets subscriptions (digital subs are up 21% yoy). It is very active on Facebook, with 7 million followers, using a wide range of charts, cartoons, images and videos to promote its articles and encourage comments.

Martha Stewart Living has been using Facebook live for cooking demos, practically operating like an international broadcast channel, and collaborating with food bloggers for promotion.

Publishing on social platforms can feel like dancing with the devil, and no publisher wants to become too dependent on one platform, but they are a fabulous way to build reach and strengthen brand authority. And if, like the Economist, you can entice people back to your own site and capture their email addresses, then that can deliver more concrete long term value.


  1. Learn to play with video

Facebook video views now rival Youtube, and forecasts suggest that 75% of mobile traffic will be video by 2020. In March this year Snapchat video traffic caught up with Facebook – both receive 8 billion daily views. So publishers need to move beyond words and still images, and embrace video as a medium.

AJ+, the spin-off news channel from Al Jazeera, targeting the Millennial generation, tells its stories through short, annotated videos – and now has 200k subscribers on Youtube and 300k twitter followers. Videos with captions are popular as they can be watched with the sound off, eg in the office or on public transport.

Hearst, publishers of Cosmopolitan and Glamour, have set up their own in-house studio, and have established a daily production cycle based around prime time broadcasts.

At the other end of the scale, independent angling publisher DHP has launched a series of video magazines available online by subscription, and launched a weekly news round-up on YouTube called Match Fishing TV.

Short-form video content is shareable and rates well on social platforms. Production values do not need to be broadcast standard – a short interview, product review or how-to demo, shot on an iphone, can be highly valued by your audience.


  1. Build mobile first products

Mobile is fast approaching 50% of browsing time, with greatest growth on smartphones, not tablets. Adapting desktop designed websites or A4 magazine pages to the small screen just doesn’t provide a good experience for data-rationed, impatient, one-handed mobile users.

So more publishers are developing products designed to be mobile first (or rather, smartphone first).

The Economist launched Espresso as a “light” version of the main publication – a low-cost daily briefing designed for a younger age group. They connected with 500 influencers to support its launch, and have now reached 200,000 subscribers.

Quartz have developed a news app based entirely on notifications, with a conversational style, where users can click to get more data and stats or go to the next news item. It’s free and funded by native advertising.

Popsugar reaches 100m young women and its traffic is 57% mobile. Focus is on short videos that work well when shared on Facebook, and they actively encourage user engagement, which is carefully tracked to guide future content development. They work hard at personalising content to stay relevant.

Mobile first products need a very simple user interface; bitesize, relevant, timely content and to encourage social sharing. Advertising must be subtle. Espresso shows that people will pay for mobile content, but bear in mind it does offer an extended free trial. And do remember to track analytics and respond quickly.


  1. Help your audience learn

Professionals want to acquire new skills to develop their career, and enthusiasts want to upgrade their techniques. Online learning is a natural extension for publishers who already reach a large audience.

The TES Institute offers a wide range of online CPD courses for teachers, such as an 8 hour Maths course or a 10-15 hour special educational needs course for £96 each, developed in collaboration with UCL. They also offer combined online and school-based courses to obtain qualified teacher status for between £3-9,000.

RCNi Learning offers interactive courses for nurses with hundreds of modules covering different specialities accredited by Royal College of Nursing. They can be used on mobile devices and offline. Nurses can subscribe just to the learning package at £6 a month or combine with a print/digital journal subscription at £8.60 a month. Subscribers can track all their completed modules in an online portfolio which counts towards professional accreditation.

Craftsy offers an extensive range of video how to classes on quilting, sewing, knitting and other crafts, at prices ranging from £15-30 each.

So there are opportunities for consumer and b2b publishers to develop online learning at a range of different price points, and in collaboration with professional or educational providers.


  1. Get closer to the sale

Many publications have traditionally helped their audience make a big buying decision, whether professional or personal. And mobile devices are making it easier for media brands to provide truly relevant and useful info at the point of sale – and share in the revenue.

Dennis Publishing recently acquired online motor retailer, as part of a seven figure investment project. They are partnering with dealers countrywide to build inventory, marketing to the 4 million people their car publications reach, and adding relevant editorial content. Dealers pay an affiliate rate to be featured on the site. Plan is to sell 3,000 cars in 2016, with a long term plan of building to 12,000.

All recipes new mobile app targets people planning a meal for that evening, with social sharing, shopping lists and in-store mobile coupons funded by advertisers.

Craft publisher Immediate Media has acquired TV shopping business Jewellery Maker, which promotes craft kits with TV programming from their own studio and takes orders online or by phone during the show. They plan to roll out this model to their other craft markets.

E-commerce is a different skill-set, so publishers are bringing expertise in-house by acquisition or partnering with online retailers, but their ability to generate content and reach an audience is a great advantage.


  1. Help advertisers go native

Low digital ad rates and the threat of ad blockers are pushing publishers towards developing native advertising or sponsored content, but how can you avoid the pitfalls and develop really useful and compelling content?

News service Quartz is designed for mobile and has to be wholly funded by advertising, but doesn’t want to run the risk of annoying its users. So it has developed interactive native ad formats that tell an enticing story.

Ads are labelled Sponsor Content in orange, and typically contain 600 words, two Quartz-style charts and an interview. They can command rates of $60 CPT, ten times the going rate for banners.

They do this by spending time deconstructing the clients brand message and pitching ideas that fit the Quartz style. They have a bank of tech tools that help create the charts and graphics to save doing too much bespoke work. And they share detailed analytics with advertisers.

Famously some Quartz subscribers have said that they like their ads so much they disabled their ad blocker – surely words that many publishers can only dream of hearing!

Accounting Web has a resource section with downloadable PDFs supplied by advertisers. They also mix “sponsored” articles right alongside their own editorial.

To do “native ads” well, publishers need a dedicated team, a “house style” and to really understand an advertisers objectives. And tracking response is crucial to proving the long term impact of a campaign.


So to recap here are the seven smart digital publishing ideas we have discussed:

  1. Invite readers to share content
  2. Embrace social distribution
  3. Learn to play with video
  4. Build mobile first products
  5. Help your audience learn
  6. Get closer to the sale
  7. Help advertisers go native

If you’d like to have a chat over the phone or over a coffee about how to apply some of these ideas to your media business, please get in touch.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has over twenty years experience launching, growing, buying and selling specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events. Carolyn now advises publishers large and small on their digital strategy and writes and speaks on the topic of digital publishing strategy for media sector publishers and events.