Digital Publishing: 2017 Year in Review

As we prepare to adapt and tackle the new publishing challenges of Digital Publishing in 2018, we take a look back at the big events and trends of last year.

Liam Handford

Liam Handford

February 8th, 2018 | Reading Time: 6 mins
Digital Publishing

Digital Publishing: 2017 Year in Review

As we prepare to adapt and tackle the new publishing challenges of Digital Publishing in 2018, we take a look back at the big events and trends of last year.

No one can deny the turbulence Digital Publishing has gone through recently. From a focus on diversifying content formats, social channel publishing, or entire shake-ups in how many large publishers have had to move away from print ad’s and focus more on their digital offering.

Doubling Down On Digital Subscriptions

digital editions

One of the most commonly talked about stories in 2017 was The Economist and The Wall Street Journal doubling down on digital subscriptions. Driven by declining print ad revenue – thanks to the likes of Google and Facebook taking most of the advertising pie – the biggest publishers have continued to struggle but are finally clawing back a semblance of stability.

Even though advertising revenue has taken a nosedive because of the digital behemoths taking over the advertising space, it’s also actually helped publishers in their mission to diversify. It’s making it far cheaper to acquire new subscribers from audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach – The Economist for example claims the use of search and social media has halved their cost of acquisition . The Wall Street Journal’s subscribers are now over 50% digital, adding 300,000 in the last year alone, with The Economist pulling in 90,000.

Quality Content


From Brexit to Trump, the rise of populism favours a flight to quality information

Frédéric Fillou

A focus on quality content, to appeal to a certain audience, custom made for the channel. Snapchat Stories is a great example, being used by big brands to reach a younger audience with quality, short video clips, and a partnership which has put the WSJ on the map for a millennial audience when combined with the trust gained after their high-impact, accurate reporting of Brexit and the US Presidential Election.

Pivoting to digital is undoubtedly the only way such big publishing houses can survive, creating content that really matters to their readers, pulling in new audiences and ultimately making much better margins compared to print with it’s large distribution cost.

It’s been reported that these print publications actually have an advantage when it comes to winning digital subscriptions compared to purely digital publishers – A major reason being they’re trusted, and already considered real players in high quality journalism and reporting even among those that haven’t been invested in their print products.

Video Is Still King


We were already hearing ‘Video is the next big thing’ back in 2010, but 2017 saw it really get taken advantage of on a scale we hadn’t seen before, it was only this time last year that Mark Zuckerberg committed to having a video first approach to all Facebook properties, and it really showed in 2017 with Facebook investing heavily in pushing publishers to create video content specifically for the platform.

Digital channels now allow publishers to take advantage of sound, video, data and interactive features to tell a story.

Scott Room, The Guardian

The use of video storytelling has always been effective, allowing publishers to relay a lot of information in a short space of time, and make it an emotional, memorable experience.

With streaming services now being such a hit, this short-burst video content fits perfectly into most peoples routine of content consumption and isn’t considered new or exciting, but an expectation, especially from premium subscription publishers. So many people consume content on multiple devices at once that the demand for video content couldn’t be ignored.

Mapping The Interest Graph

interest graph

With the vast amount of content out there (a lot of it high quality and free), readers are realising they hold the power and don’t always need to rely on big names for great content. Younger consumers have essentially lost the comfort they previously had when reading a story from a large publisher, trusting it because of the letterhead.

The buzz of ‘Fake News’ being a wake up call that a big organisation doesn’t mean a lack of bias or agenda, and realising that publications more in tune with individual interests are often only a few searches away. There’s been massive growth for very niche digital publishers, an example being The Information, providing high quality, specific and well sourced tech news.

The big opportunities are in niches. There are so many sectors that are underserved by media right now. Look for businesses that need to reach clearly defined audiences, and focus on that audience’s passion points.

John Deere

The main take-away is that readers don’t want to have to rely on multiple broad-topic publishers, they want to know which publisher is going to provide the best content for the topics they’re interested in. The evolution of that was the desire for more customisation – something that publishers like Quartz have been ahead of everyone on, with their experimental app providing unique ways to select relevant topics and digest content.

For extremely niche publishers with small circles of readers, 2017 proved that readers also want the ability to search through libraries of content, they know what they’re looking for and no longer have the same amount of dwell time as they did 5 years ago – digital natives know their way around an archive and want access to it to get straight to very particular content.

2018: What’s next?

digital world

Many of the trends from 2017 will continue on, being picked up and noticed by more publishers, evolving with the digital world and as the ecosystem changes. Just in the past few weeks Facebook announced major changes to how they’ll treat publisher content, how that helps shape digital publishing we can’t know.

One thing that can’t be argued against is that with the growth of digital, the increasing access to information and content, readers have more choice than ever before.

In our last post about responsive content, even the statistics provided there are backed up by this evolution of reader behaviour. More choice means publishers have to put more emphasis on appealing to their readers, to providing content on a topic or topics that can’t be matched either in quality, accuracy or readability across devices. More content is going to be read in 2018 than any year before, on more devices, published by more sources and through more channels.

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