Print vs Digital: A Tale of Co-existence

A long standing debate in publishing is about print vs digital. “Is print dying?”, “Am I cannibalizing print while seeking newer digital avenues?”, “Is print-on-demand the only solution for print to survive?”, and many more.

Revenue from each channel is a major source of these concerns. Publishing has traditionally been split into various silos catering to a different segment of people – print readers on one side, digital readers on the other. What is interesting is that these readers are all together and such differentiated demographics do not make sense anymore.

Readers prefer different media for different content. A text book can be given as an eBook, some of the materials it contains can be delivered as streaming audio and video and the workbook that goes with it may make most sense as a printed material. This is an example of how different media co-exist to provide a complete learning experience which the textbook is supposed to provide.

The idea is to look at goals that a given content is to achieve and identify the best channels to deliver that experience to the consumers. The key aspect is to ensure that all these channels are integrated to provide a uniform experience. Once that is done, the consumers truly become consumers of the content rather than a print buyer or an eBook buyer.

From a business standpoint, the goal is not to maximize each revenue channel like print, eBooks, other digital content, etc. If that is the case, conflicts and internal competition among these silos will have a negative effect on overall revenues. The goal should be to maximize the overall revenues while optimizing each of the channels to contribute to maximizing the overall revenue. The volume of this exercise will be directly proportional to the size of the publishing firm and will require alignment at the top levels in terms of target setting and revenue expectations from each unit. It will also be necessary to identify the role each of these units play in delivering the optimal experience for the organization’s customers. But once set up, it can truly drive the organization forward.

This is true for any content – not just words. An interesting case study is about ESPN and their digital strategy for the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Advertising revenue through TV was the largest contributor to revenues during an event like the Football World Cup which, by the way, is the largest sporting event in terms of TV audiences. TV advertising is considerably more expensive and hence more attractive for a broadcasting company like ESPN. Web or mobile advertising is cheaper. The question then was – will ESPN’s consumers ditch TV and move to mobile or web applications thereby resulting in lower revenue from TV? Should ESPN pursue the broadcasting model that gives web and mobile a significant part?

The FIFA Football World Cup 2010 had 64 matches and going by an average of 3 hours of live programming for each match (pre-match and post-match analysis plus the actual game time), there was a total of 11,520 live programming minutes on TV. What actually happened was that the 64 matches garnered a total of a whopping 4.9 billion minutes of World Cup content consumed by consumers during the 31 days of the tournament. What the high-priced, more rare TV advertising could have achieved was dwarfed by a strategy that involved multiple channels like the TV,,, ESPN Mobile Web, ESPN mobile apps and ESPN Mobile TV put together in a well-integrated fashion.

That example was from the media industry which is now influencing how publishing happens in a big way. Publishing companies are fast becoming content media companies as they find that their consumers are not uni-dimensional as they seem.

There are platforms, like my own company Qbend‘s SNAP, which allow for fast content repurposing to enable this integration to happen. It has become easier than ever to re-use content in various forms as consumer needs change and become more specific. I see publishers customizing and repurposing content and in multiple formats – all for a single class. When the technology allows them to do that, it is in their best interests to keep providing what the market demands of them.

More than technology, what needs to be built is the mindset of looking as a whole instead of individual departments. This mindset will result in building content ecosystems that are optimized for the best interests of the consumers. The thought-process will put the consumer’s needs at the center of the publishing programs and use technology on top of that to enable all these channels to not just co-exist but build on top of each other.

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