What does a 2016 digital publication look like?

What does a 2016 digital publication look like?

July 26, 2016

What does a digital publication in 2016 look like? And what lessons can internal communication professionals learn from these?

In September last year, Playboy’s chief content officer, Cory Jones entered the Playboy Mansion full of trepidation.

He was about to try and persuade Hugh Hefner that Playboy needed a radical rethink.

A digital revolution had shifted the paradigm; instead of a trailblazer, Playboy was now behind the curve.


Its print circulation had nosedived from multi-millions to 800,000.

Jones’ solution called for the magazine to abandon something that was in its DNA: naked pictures of women.

Instead, Playboy would focus on quality editorial, delivered through its website, digital app and its print magazine.

The result?

In under a year its web traffic increased by 300 per cent, with 16 million unique users visiting each month.

For the new-look, successful, modern Playboy, digital is the foundation.

The plight of Playboy has been replicated all across the publishing industry, digital content is no longer a ‘nice-to-have’ – it’s essential.

So, what does a digital publication in 2016 look like? And what lessons can internal communication professionals learn from these?

Mark Newnham. Head of Creative at leading internal communications agency, Headlines, explained: “There are a variety of routes for a digital publication which all depend on specific needs and – mainly – budgets.”

“It’s a really exciting time for digital publishing”, noted Mark. “It’s still in its infancy and has no established, ‘default’ route. Clearly, mobiles are the device of choice and a mobile-first approach is needed as 90 per cent of the population have a connected device within arm’s length at all times.

“I would also suggest it has to be an app – most publishers’ web traffic comes from mobile. This trend is only getting stronger with 85 per cent of people currently preferring content in an app format as opposed to a mobile site.

Mark Newnham
Mark Newnham

“Notifications (only possible through an app) also provide a powerful way to push messages directly to the user’s personal device, whether it’s an important business message or an alert to promote a new issue.”

Mark continued: “The nature of a print magazine is that it is a collection of articles delivered at a certain time in one hit.

“That ethos was embedded in the first generation of digital publication apps – they were released in conjunction with the print edition with the same frequency. Once read, it is unlikely a user will go back to the app until the next issue.

“You’re creating spikes in popularity, with the app potentially laying dormant for long periods of time. Users just don’t expect that type of experience from an app – the apps we use regularly have one thing in common – they are changing all the time and the user is almost addicted to checking for updates on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis.”

“I believe that to create a next-generation digital publication, you need to change the structure and concept of what a digital publication is”, concluded Mark.

“It cannot be something that mimics the print version (if there is one) but something that feels natively ‘digital’. It needs to build on the popularity of the most addictive and used apps by having a compelling aspect to it that encourages users to keep coming back for more, with fresh, changeable content that sits alongside typical static content.

“A heightened aspect of interaction and involvement will turn a reader into a user.”

Where we are now…

Page-turning PDF
The most basic option, an easy-to-complete digital conversion of a printed magazine.

A ‘magsite’ repackages content into a website format that people are familiar with – think BBC News but filled with magazine content.

Then there is an app – this provides a more personal experience that has all the advantages of a magsite (multimedia, comments, additional interactivity etc.) but is designed to perfectly suit the device with more flexibility and quality in the design.

Stat attack:

85 per cent of people prefer apps to mobile sites
90 per cent of the population has a connected device within arm’s length at all times
79 per cent of millennials watch online videos daily
40 per cent year-on-year growth in video consumption