Sticking to the old, print-first business model, workflow and schedule will lead publishers to a predictable crash

Let’s start from some recent quotes from the digital publishing industry:

What we have learned is that the replica will never be successful. Consumers have soundly rejected them: digital subscriptions make up only 3% of total subscriptions. But I am of course optimistic about the future of magazine apps, since the industry has an opportunity for a reboot. There is a challenge (and an opportunity) since the mainstream conception of a magazine app is what amounts to a photo gallery of pages of a magazine, with the occasional widget or animation. But that’s not a transformation that is going to happen overnight — David Jacobs from 29th Street Publishing

It’s easy to blame Adobe DPS for the spate of lookalike magazines; instead, I blame the publishers. They blindly followed AAM née ABC guidelines and created digital magazines that were hardly different from print. They prioritized customer retention over customer acquisition and focused on rate base expansion instead of new product development. They have failed to excite advertisers, blaming weak CPM numbers that could be strengthened by aggregating audiences through networks — Joe Zeff from Joe Zeff Design

I would not say the app is dead, but it might have a bullet wound to the leg. It’s probably not been the silver bullet that the magazine industry hoped for 3+ years ago. There is certainly some great work being done in the space, but the scale and audience is just not there and that has a lot to do with replicating the production cycle of a print magazine. A digital product that only updates once a month is a relic. A lot of what was done in wave 1 of app magazines ignored the lessons of web over the last 20+ years. I am incredibly optimistic about magazine-like storytelling on digital devices, but binding them to print production cycles in monolithic downloads must evolve. I think that’s why we’re starting to see lots of robust feature-length stories told directly on the web in responsive web packaging — Josh Klenert from JP Morgan Chase

Why did Craig Mod, after promoting his own idea of subcompact publishing, started a new venture — called Hi — to deliver atom bits of stories developing in time, helping humans to collect and present the unfolding of events they care about?

The Web opened up endless new possibilities that could have been leveraged to do things differently, without sticking to the same concept again and again. That’s not what publishers are generally doing today tough. Most of the digital products out there are a replica of the same page based collection of news, leaving space for the bad kids from Silicon Valley.

I still see publishers trying to integrate the old print-based workflow with the new tools, looking for an abstract of automation based on the assumption that digital editions should cost less because they earn less than the print counterpart. It will last like this forever unless they turn young again and start developing a digital first publishing approach.

We are still living a time where journalism and storytelling could be supported much better than it really is so far.