An economic crisis, or really any type of crisis, is indeed bad. But sometimes, a crisis can foster new creativity, providing the opportunities for young, or marginal, ideas to grow and eventually prevail.
In the 18th Century and the early 19th Century, there were heated debates in a number of US cities about which standard to adopt for public transportation. Should they stay with the standard, well-mastered technology of horse-pulled wagons? Would they invest in the more reliable and mastered steam engine technology? Or would they adopt the internal combustion engine, the new inefficient, yet very promising technology?
An outbreak of hoof and mouth disease during the fall of 1914 caused a crisis within the cities that threatened the livestock industry. First appearing in Michigan, the disease rapidly spread to 22 states and authorities had to react fast by limiting water supplies and banning horses in the cities. This left the cities with no choice but to turn to the inconvenient, inefficient, and dirty internal combustion engine technology. When horses and steam engines were ruled out, it was the only other option left.
If we look at a parallel in the printing industry, for the last 15 years we’ve discussed ideas and ideologies about digital publishing, debating and comparing it to traditional print-based publishing. We’ve stressed the challenges, such as high up-front costs, the cost to change workflows and mentalities, the lack of control over visual quality, the small readership numbers and the low percentage of ad referrals. But this year’s economic crisis could very well be the tipping point after which digital publishing is perceived as a viable alternative, compared to existing methods.
Digital publishing is becoming an appealing alternative as paper and postal rates increase. Publishers are hitting hard times, with the New York Times experiencing a slide of 64 percent in advertising revenue. However, at the same time, the company has seen a 15 percent increase in traffic to its online sites. Among B2B publications, there has been a 28 percent increase in BPA Circulation statements and US wholesale sales of e-books are experiencing significant growth, up 55 percent from a year ago and 78 percent in September.
Progress in the digital publishing market has occurred, as with many other technologies, in stretches of evolution with the occasional revolution. A technology such as INM Reach provides publishers with a simple way to start publishing online without a high initial investment, or a change to workflows. It allows publishers to reach any user quickly and easily online and deliver a paper-like experience for a fraction of the cost. Digital publishing has also delivered higher ad referrals than anticipated, with 90 percent of users taking some action on a digital edition, and many readers visiting websites directly from links or enhanced advertising overlays within digital editions.
The publishers that survive this massive market change will be the ones that think outside the box and innovate in a responsible and cost-effective way, and digital publishing is certainly a viable option.