Digital Does Not Mean “Just Build a Website”

Many traditional publishers have prematurely thrown in the towel on digital. “I have a website, but no one wants to advertise on it.” “I have an iPad version of my print magazine, but only a tiny fraction of my audience subscribes.” “I have made pdf’s of all my articles but no one is downloading them.”

The problem is not that content creators cannot make money in digital. The problem is digital facsimiles of print products are not what the customer wants. Data support this. For example, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, digital editions represent only 3.8 percent of total circulation (paid, verified and analyzed nonpaid). Even for the top 25 best selling digital editions, digital accounts for only 12 percent of total circulation.

Digital Is Not a Technical Challenge; It Is a Psychographic Challenge

Many publishers view digital as a technical problem to solve. These companies follow the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Because they have a digital edition, a website, and maybe even a mobile app, they think “mission accomplished.”

The mindset needs to shift. Consumers don’t want a digital edition for the sake of having a digital edition. Digital consumers have a new set of needs, which I bucket in three areas: context, curation, and customization. Content companies need to build products that address these three psychological needs to appeal to the digital consumer.

Customers Want to Consume Content in Any Context

As a digital society, we would definitely fail the infamous “marshmallow test” conducted by Stanford in the late 1960s. Are you familiar with this study? Psychologist Walter Mischel offered a child a choice between one small reward (e.g., a marshmallow) immediately or a larger reward if they waited for a short period. The researchers found that children who were able to wait longer went on to become more successful in life.

The digital consumer wants whatever, whenever, wherever. We’re not willing to wait a month or two for the next issue to arrive in the mail. We’re not willing to wait until we get home to view an article on our desktop because it’s unreadable on our phone. We might get distracted or change our mind if the checkout process is too complex.

To evaluate if you are whatever, whenever, wherever for your audience, start with these three questions:

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