The invention of the printing press, radio and television. Each of these inventions had a profound impact on the way people communicate.
And then, along came the internet. In many ways, we’ve taken these existing formats, thrown them on the web and called them 'digital'. While audio and video content has become popular online through podcasting and video based social networks (YouTube, Facebook), print media has to a degree lagged behind in its adaption to the digital world.
There’s no doubt that demand for digital content will continue to grow. Consumers want to be able to access content any time, on any device. That could be scaled up to the size of a TV screen or a computer monitor, or scaled down to mobile size.
Digital publishing benefits publishers too – it makes content easily available and reduces the cost and need for printing.
Crafting an engaging digital experience however, requires a shift in mindset away from pages and PDFs to embracing digital as its own medium.
As consumers in the digital age, we expect more and want to wait less. We engage with billion dollar products in the palm of our hand, every day, for free. This creates a cycle of expectation.
Take, for example, movies and TV shows. In the old days, TV networks controlled when you accessed entertainment. You needed to be at home at the same time every week to see your favourite show.
This model has been turned on its head by streaming models like Netflix, which are more convenient, giving you instant access to content on demand.
Exposed to a more engaging or desirable experience, you grow to appreciate this experience and how it’s improved your life. Appreciation turns to expectation in other parts of your life. You want instant content, which turns into demand. Even after this need is met, you will be drawn to the latest desirable experience from another product, and so the cycle continues.
This expectation for immediate and convenient access to content reaches beyond entertainment.
Consumers are expecting written content in more formats: digital, multiple devices, online, and easy to read and navigate.
Put your readers first
Digital publishing gives the reader choice in how they absorb your content, be that tablet, e-reader, laptop or phone. Letting your reader choose the digital format that suits them increases the impact of your content, because you’re reaching them in the context that suits them best at the time.
In addition to format, flexibility gives the reader a more engaging digital experience. Flexibility in how they navigate through cross-referenced information and interact with embedded media like videos and interactive elements.
Digital content is searchable, re-purposable and flexible. It flows and adjusts to different layouts - rather than imitating fixed print layouts, essentially trying to replicate print formats for a digital medium.
Slowly letting go of print
We often try to understand new technology by mimicking the old technology it replaces. This is common in almost all forms of technological advancement.
Take this anecdote of this gentleman’s first impressions of ‘horseless carriages’ from the magazine The Horseless Age (1897), quoted in this Wall Street Journal article:
'There is a sense of incompleteness about it. You seemed to be sitting on the end of a huge pushcart, propelled by an invisible force and guided by a hidden hand. There is also a seeming brazenness to the whole performance. I dreamed once that I walked down Fifth Avenue in my pyjamas in the full tide of the afternoon promenade, and I almost died with shame before I awoke. Yesterday I had something of the same feeling as I sat there and felt myself pushed forward into the very face of a grinning, staring and sometimes jeering New York. But it wore away after a while. Gradually I felt that I did not need the protection of a horse in front of me.'
Just as we let go of 'horseless carriages' for cars, when does 'digital publishing' just become publishing?
Recreating print conventions will gradually give way to embracing the many forms of the digital medium. People want to engage with your content on the devices they’re using at the time – and at the end of the day, that engagement is what we all want.