“Are Digital Editions Dead?” Hopefully the term is

In any tech-related field or industry, there’s a slew of neologisms that get churned out on a regular basis: Acronyms, contractions and compound nouns. In digital publishing however, there is one in particular that we’ve been stuck with, turning up in everything from editorials to audits: Digital Editions.

Whilst the term does (or rather ‘did’) indeed refer to something quite specific, namely page-turning editions, it’s grown to encompass so much digitally published content that it has essentially become a form of archaic terminology, one that has outstayed its welcome and served to confuse digital strategists.

What are Digital Editions?

“Digital Editions”, as a term, describes the conversion of publications in PDF form to what’s often describing as a “page-turning” format on desktop and laptop PCs. It first found traction in the early 00s to describe, what was then, as something that embodied the promise of the internet. It provided easy distribution, cut print costs, gave rock-solid analytics for advertisers, delivered dynamic interaction on the part of the reader and so on. It’s a concept that is perhaps better described as “desktop publishing”.

Part of the problem is that there’s a great deal of conflation in terminology in “digital publishing” as a whole. Even the cursory research into the matter produces an array of terms whose definition isn’t entirely clear: Online publishing, mobile publishing, page-turning publishing, e-publishing and so on.

To an industry insider, let alone a layman, questions naturally arise when reading this content such as: Are these referring specifically to editions published in Flash/HTML readers designed to evoke the look and feel of a print publication? Or does Digital Publishing simply refer to any content disseminated through online platforms per se? E.g. WordPress, Blogspot and increasingly even Tumblr and Twitter.

As an example, Flipboard, the successful content aggregator of web published content, is often described as part of the digital publishing industry, despite not publishing any material itself and being more of a content delivery tool than anything else. This confusion isn’t restricted to delivery methods however, it bleeds over into discussions about everything from advertising revenue on mobile devices to the viability of “mobile publishing” as a whole.

What should be done instead?

Whilst this may seem like splitting hairs over semantics, language is ultimately meant to convey things in a comprehensible and meaningful manner. With this in mind, the term “Digital Editions” at its root is essentially deprecated.

Undoubtedly it’s useful when describing the effort to recreate print magazines on a desktop in the early 2000s but in a world where mobile devices now predominate, it has long since outlived this usefulness. Of course this isn’t to say that other browser-based readers are also deprecated, merely that they form part of what is now a larger digital publishing mosaic.

Perhaps, moving forward, it would be more informative to establish with greater clarity what exactly we mean by “digital publishing”, as an industry. In real terms this means more clearly distinguishing between the various delivery methods (for example “multi-channel publishing”) and the content itself (“print replicas” versus “digitally native”).

If you’d like to discuss how YUDU can help with multi-channel digital publishing, get in touch by emailing us.

Categories: Industry opinion

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