Most traditional publishing executives have bought into the idea that digital is crucial to the success of their publications in the 21st century. But despite the fact that most of them are increasingly embracing and investing in digital, few are seeing the kind of results that would indicate good times are back again.

A new survey of 476 publishing industry professionals and 1,800 consumers conducted by Harrison Group sponsored by Zinio might just hint at why: publishers are simply blind to what consumers really want.

According to the survey, 74% of publishing industry professionals think that a standard subscription model is just dandy, while 87% of consumers prefer other models, including unlimited access at one price, one-off purchases and micropayments.

It's not surprising that payment models are a contentious issue, but they alone don't reflect the full extent of the rift between publishers and consumer.

Harrison Group found that "consumers insist on the freedom to share content with friends, family and colleagues, and they expect that digital publications can be shared among smart phones, tablets and e-readers," which puts consumer expectations in direct conflict with the world view of many publishers, particularly newspapers and magazines.

The Harrison Group's Vice Chairman, Dr. Jim Taylor, put it simply: "Consumers expect to pay only once for the publications they buy and have it available on any device they choose to read it on."

Yet as we're seeing, many publishers are treating new devices, such as tablet devices like the iPad, as silos. Want access to the iPad version of a particular newspaper, for instance? With some, you'll have to shell out for it even if you already subscribe to the newspaper's website, and it might even cost you more than the print version.

That, not surprisingly, highlights another rift: consumers understand that digital publishing will reduce publisher costs, but according to the Harrison Group, "only 5% of the savings [publishers] will reap from digital production will be passed onto consumers."

The good news for publishers is there's a consensus that digital is the future. Over three-quarters of the publishing industry professionals surveyed believe that technology is driving publishing, and slightly less than three-quarters think that technology can "make or break a publication."

The bad news for publishers is that as important as technology is, you simply can't ignore the expectations of your customers and hope to succeed -- even if you nail the technology.

That leaves publishers with two options: change consumer expectations, or find a way to meet them. Chances are the publishers who do the latter will get to where they need to go a lot sooner.

Patricio Robles

Published 7 January, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (5)



How could you pay once and have the choice to view it on any platform? Surely that's totally unprofitable with each platform having an associated production cost that in some cases is very high.

over 7 years ago


Rick Golman

That's great! Opening my eyes! Thank your for sharing this!

over 7 years ago


Dallas Ford

It will cost more for a publisher to make a book available on all mediums; smart phone, tablet etc but a company who will be able to find an economical way to have the process streamlined will stand to make a lot of money, since they will be giving consumers what they want.

over 7 years ago



Meeting consumers will be tough, because publishers will more likely than not have to meet consumers on the consumer's side of the line. But based on the Facebook ad revenue estimates, maybe publishers can find ways to have advertisers cover the cost of making content available across platforms for one fee.

over 7 years ago


Slide Buddy

Having content in all platforms with only just one payment might seem like a consumer's utopia, but it does seem a bit unfair to the publishers. What with the consumer landscape changing, everything seems up in the air.

over 7 years ago

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