Publishing – Then and now: audiences

In our second instalment of ‘Publishing: then and now’, I will compare print and online publishing audiences...

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In our second instalment of ‘Publishing: then and now’, I will compare print and online publishing by focusing on how the medium of a publication affects the way audiences consume its content.

More often than not traditional print publishers now offer additional online versions of their content, but what are the advantages and the disadvantages of this when it comes to the audience?

The advantages of print publishing

Despite our technology-obsessed age, hard copy still occupies a position of prestige. There is also a general perception that print is more synonymous with ‘deep reading’, meaning its audience are engaging proactively with the content; something which makes them more likely to return to that publication again.  This contrasts with online consumers who on average spend less than a minute on a website and read only 28% of words on a page.

A more browser based consumer experience has now emerged with users ‘content-snacking’ and moving quickly between sites, rather than immersing themselves in chunks of editorial.

Print publications however, often have a very devoted readership; people will buy every edition of Vogue or The New Scientist because they respect and are loyal to the brand. Because of this, print publications often have a more solidified following, as evidenced by the fact that magazine ads routinely cost more than online ads do. Despite this loyal following, print publications are very limited geographically and can only facilitate an audience in countries where they print or distribute their content.

So, what are the advantages of online publishing?

Online publications have advantages when it comes to accessing audiences. Although online content may not have the same solidified core of consumers as print, it does have the capability to access a much wider audience and tap into the online habits of those audiences. Online publications can be accessed from anywhere in the world, at the click of a button, tap of a finger or command of a voice, so the potential readership can be massive.

Online content also has the added advantage of being translatable, so while more and more internet users are beginning to speak English, those that don’t are still catered to by a lot of publications, and the potential reach that comes as a result of that is enormous.

The ability for publishers to bridge the language barrier with online content means the medium transgresses print to such a degree that it’s hard to make a valid argument against it.

The accessibility of online publishing can also make it easier to build a relationship with users. Techniques such as linking to recommended articles mean that once a user is viewing your content you can give them a more personalized experience by offering related content and strengthening their interest in your publication.

Furthermore, publications do not want to run the risk of being ‘ungoogleable’! Those without an online footprint run the risk of becoming obsolete in digital terms, because users expect to see their favorite brands and publications when they’re online. If they can’t, they may just find new favorites.

Is online the only way forward?

There are however disadvantages that come with the relatively new reach and accessibility of online. What disadvantages you may ask? Well we’ve touched on relationship building being positive but the flip side is that it can sometimes be hard to cement a relationship online because readers may have linked to your content from elsewhere, or stumbled across it accidentally. They might read a snippet, and leave your site, not thinking about where the content came from and not having made any engagement with the publication itself.

We are consuming content in bite-size chunks for instant gratification and this means online publications can often have a more fragmented audience.

So, print publications often have a loyal following of ‘deep-readers’ whereas online publications benefit from being able to access a wider audience and offer added value.

Ultimately it’s the delivery of quality, engaging content that must remain at the forefront of any publication; regardless of its format. Making the transition to online publication is really a matter of when and not if; yet the details that have always made print so compelling and successful cannot be left behind, shelved to become dusty book covers labelled ‘online predecessor’.

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Posted by simonholliday