Online Publishing Today vs. Tomorrow

Thoughts on catering to the next generation of consumers

Ten years ago in online publishing, a magazine was sold over the phone, through magazine clubs, through the mail and on the newsstands. Today, a majority of magazine subscriptions are being sold online. So how did this transition happen?

I’m currently reading Grown Up Digital, a book by Don Tapscott, which was inspired by a $4 million research project and will become our own inspiration for our upcoming video research study on Digital Natives vs. Digital immigrants.

In his book, Tapscott writes:

“What an extraordinary period in human life this is—for the first time the next generation coming of age can teach us how to ready our world for the future. The digital tools of their childhood and youth are more powerful than what exists in much of corporate America…. I believe that we can learn how to manage the dark side—a predictable thing with any new communication medium—more effectively.”

“To them, technology is like the air,” Tapscott says. In 2011, the new generation of our future consumers will read a hundred online reviews and ask Twitter friends before buying a product. They will book a doctors appointment online before ever picking up the phone. They won’t wait for coupons to arrive in the mail, they will first print them out online.

As it relates to us, they will read blogs and digital magazines before they commit to a year-long contract or run to a newsstand to buy our publications. They will need free content in order to get familiar with what we offer. Being in business for 20 years won’t matter to the upcoming generation because they don’t spend time at magazine racks like the consumers of today have done in the past.

Instantaneous satisfaction is key. We need to provide ways for consumers to get our publications more immediately, which means offering digital platforms like Kindle Subscriptions, iPad apps and downloadable PDFs. Since we’re still in the in-between phase, these digital products may very well accompany a print product, which is why many publishers offer print + digital combination subscriptions.

Tapscott talks about how the movie industry is already changing in more “open source” ways.

  • The Tracey Fragments is a movie in which the filmmakers made all of the footage available. Wannabe filmmakers could go ahead and do what they wanted with it, with a reward of putting the best adaptation or re-cut on the DVD when it came out.
  • The Boy Who Never Slept was a movie that was created for just $200 and generation tens of millions of online viewers.
  • Elephants Dream was a movie created completely on open source software and gave away all of the footage for free to anyone who wanted it.
  • A Swarm of Angels was a $2 million dollar movie project that was to be given away free. Anyone who donated $25 toward the film would receive creative input.

The successes of these projects were based on the new style of thinking, which allows consumers to be a part of a project. Budget Travel magazine displayed their savvy to this developing trend by asking their readers to “create’ their own magazine for their 10th anniversary. Everything from the cover to the photos to the stories were user submitted.

The point here is simply to pay attention to the publishing world as is evolves, because it’s evolving very quickly. User-generated content is becoming more appreciated and offers a sense of ownership that consumers didn’t have in the past. The more platforms for interaction with your publication you offer, the more platforms that the consumers of tomorrow will play on.


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