Nurturing the Relationship Between the Digital World and Print Publishing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Nurturing the Relationship Between the Digital World and Print PublishingDigital has signaled the end of print publishing, has it not? This is what we’ve heard every year since what feels like the dawn of time. But while traditional publishing is certainly challenged by the digital revolution and changing consumer habits, there is actually a huge opportunity here, and the approach should not be so much print vs. digital, but rather print with digital.

Print with Digital:

We all understand the principle of publishing books for tablets like the Kindle, in addition to (or instead of) the traditional print runs. Indeed, the readers of Digital Book World are flagbearers for the ebook revolution, championing the technology that has altered people’s everyday reading habits around the world. Publishers, big and small, are gradually adapting to consumer trends, both in shopping for books online and in purchasing ebooks through their tablets.

With a few exceptions, we assume that publishers have been dragged begrudgingly to this point. In fact, there are plenty within the industry who are enthusiastic about the opportunities that digital provides. Unfortunately, decades of outdated systems and processes within large publishers, as well as the inevitable resistance of some “old guard” in higher echelons, are slowing the transition to a more agile approach across the board.

Of course, any publisher would be foolish not to utilize the ebook market in the modern world—its estimated worth is somewhere between $15-20 billion. But the opportunities reach far beyond the afterthought of re-purposing a book for Kindle. Digital should instead be embraced from the beginning, from the conception of a title to the marketing that promotes it. By taking this approach, publishers can reap huge rewards and set themselves apart in a competitive industry.

Conception and Creation:

It’s tempting to see the digital world as separate from the real one, but it’s imperative that we get our heads around how to see them as intrinsically connected. Most DBW readers have directly experienced the impact of technology over the past couple of decades, more rapidly changing people’s lives than ever before. This gives us a certain perspective. However, we must appreciate that young people are growing up with certain expectations, having never experienced life before the Internet. Moreover, young people are growing up with the “Internet of things” directing their everyday lives.

Publishers can now consider the intertwined digital and “real” worlds from the very beginning of a project. Sure, there will be people who buy a title in a bookstore, but this is missing out on a huge section of the market that likes to consume stories in different ways. It’s not just about bringing a story to life with pictures, videos and graphics. Part of what makes fiction beautiful is what we conjure up in our own brains—our imagination formulating the imagery. We should be careful to not spoil this. However, publishers should at least entertain the idea of telling their authors’ stories in different ways, across different devices.

For educational publishers, it’s essential to prepare their titles for an increased expectation of interactive and engaging learning experiences. Yes, traditional textbooks are still appropriate and indeed required, but they cannot do the entire job in classrooms that use iPads, smartboards and interactive TVs. Young people expect more, and studies suggest that they learn better by using interactive technology. Although some educational institutions are slow on the uptake, leading consumer technology is infiltrating schools and colleges, and it’s essential to grasp this opportunity now before it’s too late.

Marketing and Sales:

The gap between digital and traditional marketing is narrowing, just as the line between online and offline PR is blurring. The online world provides incredible opportunities to reach audiences in new ways, to promote publications and to gather and harness a community of enthusiasts.

Paid and organic social media: Whether it’s a physical book or a digital one, there’s no reason not to harness the power of social media to promote a book. As well as the classic self-promotion, social media can be used to reach out to bloggers and reviewers, and to gain traction for a release. Digital marketing isn’t reserved for digital products; it can be used successfully to build up the buzz for a physical product, even more so with the increasing willingness of consumers to purchase items online. Furthermore, investing budget into paid social media promotion can help publishers reach a very specific audience. Advertising on social media can allow for scarily accurate targeting, allowing marketers to pique the interest of any demographic they desire.

Blogs and short stories: Whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, there will be an existing level of interest for the topic. Writing blog posts around the subject and picking apart some of the themes will generate attention from existing enthusiasts and encourage influencers to talk about the book itself. By no means should authors give away the secrets of their work, but publishers can identify where their readership spends its time online and aim to publish stories and articles in those areas. This is content marketing in its most basic form.

Mobile apps: Building a mobile app may seem somewhat extravagant, but the US and Europe are becoming truly mobile-first economies. This is even more evident in the Indian and African economies, which are rapidly growing markets. Many people in these regions have their first digital experience through a smartphones, with 90 percent of device user time spent “in-app.” Again, using the example of educational publishers, mobile apps can be used to enrich the experience of the reader, offered in addition to a textbook or workbook. The “gamification” of learning is proven to inspire, and a mobile app can be used for class tests, competitions and games that reflect the subject of study.

Online video: People are consuming information visually more than ever before. You only have to look at the auto-play features implemented on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see this trend. As we know, long gone are the days when video was confined to the TV. And this provides publishers with the opportunity to showcase their titles and authors in an easy and cost-effective way. Video interviews with authors, storytellers, publishers and subjects will promote the book and provide extra collateral for social media activity.


Whether we like it or not, the tension between digital and print publishing exists. But we have an opportunity to dispel the suspicion and to acknowledge that there is a place for both in this world. Ebooks are here to stay, and that’s a great thing. Print books will also endure, despite the impending doom predicted by many experts.

What’s more, digital can support and enrich print in many different ways, and vice versa. Individuals have differing buying and reading habits, and it’s up to publishers to reach their audience, wherever they may be. The digital world is intertwined with our everyday lives, and this is a juggernaut of a trend that shows no signs of slowing down as new technologies are rushed to market. It’s not necessarily a case of “adapt or die,” but certainly “adapt to prosper.”

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One thought on “Nurturing the Relationship Between the Digital World and Print Publishing

  1. Michael W. Perry

    Time for a bit of rain. It’s never been true that digital would replace print. That’s simply silly journalistic buzz. Reporters think almost every story is a horse race. Most aren’t.

    Any settling out of the two markets is being delayed by the fact that, except for fixed-layout epub on tablets (mostly iPads & iBooks), digital looks ugly. That particularly true with Kindles, given Amazon’s ‘tacky and cheap is best’ mindset. Ugly may be OK for three-romance-novels-a-week addicts. It’s not OK for many others. I’ve shifted back to print because digital was too plain and too ‘etherial’—meaning it did not seem like I owned anything for my purchase.

    Then there are apps. If I were a publishing executive who wanted to wreck my career and end up on the sidewalks of Manhattan selling selfie sticks to tourists, I’d push strongly for a publisher app. It’ll mean lots of money wasted for nothing. It’s a career wrecker.

    Sorry, publishing company executives, but readers don’t care about your company. They care about genres and authors, particularly those mega-selling author-managers such as James Patterson. A romance book app or a James Patterson app tracking the latest his team has released would do well. A Random House one will bomb. And if you’re small than Random House, forget about funding a company app. It won’t let you beat Amazon at its own game. It’s not even the game Amazon is playing.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books



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