Saturday, October 8, 2011

How can you turn to Digital Publishing during the Global Downturn?

A report released by the UK’s Association of Online Publishers found what many people already suspected - namely that online newspapers, magazines and catalogues are easier to access, faster for locating desired content and more convenient than their print equivalent. But it’s not just the technical and functional advantages of online publishing that make digital publications so compelling. In a severe global downturn, the pressure to reduce costs and retain margins is huge.

E-publishing offers a solution to recessionary woes with industry specialists estimating that they can cut publishing costs by up to 82%! How are these cost savings achieved? Putting a publication online eliminates paper, ink, postage and transport as well as distribution extras. Online publishing also allows for total cost stabilization which is an important consideration in today’s economic environment.

By contrast in offline publishing, raw pulp inflation (up 24% in two years), coated magazine paper inflation (8% in 2008), ink prices rises (up to 40% inflation) and increased transport costs have all contributed to a very unstable publishing environment. E-publishing therefore offers a considerable number of advantages to the extent that numerous publishing houses and brand owners are either going completely digital or testing it for practical application or at least investigating. The big question, and the prime focus for this blog post, is how do you get started? After all, any Google search will list dozens of e-publishing providers and with no prior knowledge it is difficulty to gauge which ones are worth short-listing as a possible solution.

Here I provide a checklist that contains the six most important questions you must ask any e-publishing services provider. I have listed them here along with an explanation as to why each question is so crucial:

Question 1: Is the digital publication easy to read and load?
This is a vital question to ask and it is imperative that you try the software out as if you were an ordinary consumer. This involves testing out the functionality of the software and deciding whether the interface is user-friendly. It also involves loading the magazine and seeing whether the whole process from loading, viewing and closing the publication is smooth and seamless… and quick.

In short, when using an e-publishing provider, is the online publication as easy and enjoyable to read as the offline equivalent? Is the online magazine easy to browse, turn the pages, zoom in, zoom out and download content? When the Association of Online Publishers in the UK researched these questions, they found that half their respondents ‘rated the print version as more satisfying than the website from a point of user-satisfaction’.

This is because many e-publishing solutions are simply not good enough to replicate the look, feel and ease of an offline publication – the software takes too long to download, the navigation is tricky, functionality poor and the overall sense of enjoyment is drastically reduced. If you don’t find an e-publishing solution easy to use and enjoyable, neither will other users.

Leading e-publishing providers offer potential customers a free trial so that users can put a publication online and see for themselves how easy to use and functional the solution actually is. If any e-publishing supplier does not offer a free trial then simply avoid it – it could be a costly mistake. Indeed, the most cost-effective solution in the short term is often not the most cost-effective in the long term and low start-up fees can be misleading. Remember that poor technical performance will cost time and money to repair on an ongoing basis – adding to your costs at a time when you are actively seeking to save money.

Free trials also allow you to test an e-publishing solution to its limit and examine each aspect of the solution before purchasing. This is important because many solutions fall short in one or two key areas – for example, 1.5% of internet users can only read HTML (and not Flash) and therefore it is important to see whether these users can still use the e-publishing software. It is vital that no readers get left behind!

Question 2: Has the e-publishing solution been industry tested by thousands of customers and end-users?
Many supposedly good e-publishing solutions, particularly those from new developers and non-specialist software providers, fall short because the software will not work under strenuous circumstances. As an example, imagine your company sends an online catalogue to 100,000 customers. While the e-publishing software might work for small volumes of users at one time, what happens when thousands log on to view the publication at the same time? In many cases the software crashes. Therefore it is imperative that you find an e-publishing solution that has been vigorously tested across a variety of different load situations and which has withstood the rigours of time.

Remember also that newly established e-publishing companies might have a seemingly “workable” solution, but is the company, its support, development and customer service mature enough for you to be confident in making the investment? If not, you might be saddled with an e-publishing solution that has absolutely no back-up or support. During a recession, an e-publishing solution that has a track record of longevity, service and support and is backed by a company with a stable financial infrastructure is key.

Question 3: Can you customize the e-publishing solution?
Most e-publishing solutions are standard off-the shelf packages that publishers have to adapt to rather than the other way around. Leading e-publishing solutions, however, will allow a publisher to customize their online publication in numerous ways giving each publication a completely unique look and feel. By allowing publishers the ability to easily customize the interface, look and feel of any type of publication, brand owners can put their own stamp and identity on each online publication, further enhancing their brand image in the market place.

When choosing an e-publishing solution remember that one size does not fit all. Also, bear in mind that an e-publishing solution that is fully customizable offers cost-savings because there is no need for expensive software revisions further down the line.

Question 4: How good is the provider’s reputation and customer references?
If an e-publishing solution can demonstrate a prominent list of international clients, then it is safe to assume that the e-publishing vendor is well established, reputable and delivers an outstanding e-publishing solution that is easy to use and can handle the largest volume of users at one time. A blue-chip client list is essential if you are looking at any e-publishing solution. Remember also, that large companies have strict procurement protocols and regulations. A blue-chip client list therefore tells you that an e-publishing solution offers a strong combination of cost-effectiveness and technical performance. Without a blue-chip client list, doubts must remain as to whether an e-publishing solution or the company itself, is really as good as it claims to be.

Question 5: Does the solution provider have local and global knowledge of your industry?
The demands of e-publishing mean that you need a strong and close relationship with your e-publishing supplier. No country, company or publication is the same and each e-publishing project demands knowledge of not only e-publishing but also local market preferences and protocols, such as internet bandwidth capabilities.

If the e-publishing supplier has a local presence then they will know the unique market conditions within your territory and be able to give you informed and specialist advice tailored to your own particular needs. Remember also that a local presence saves money – no expensive international mobile calls or time wasted waiting on hold for your question or problem to be resolved. If the e-publishing supplier also has an international presence they will be able to view each e-publishing project from an international perspective, allowing them to give far superior advice because it encompasses a far wider range of e-publishing experiences.

Question 6: Does the solution provider have adequate support capabilities?
For every second that your e-publishing solution does not work properly – from slow uploads and software glitches to outright system failures – your audience and your brand will be negatively affected, not to mention your bottom line. Having an e-publishing supplier with only a limited international presence is therefore of little use if you cannot contact them instantly with time-sensitive questions.

This means you need phone based support, answered within seconds, rather than email-only support which can take 24 hours or more to receive a response from. In short, global phone support is critical to the success of any e-publishing venture. It means that the e-publishing provider places high importance on customer service and customer satisfaction, rather than simply providing just a basic software tool. Good customer support provides cost-savings across multiple levels and allows your publication to deliver at all times.