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.