When’s the last time you read a print newspaper or magazine? If you’re anything like me, print publications are an occasional indulgence rather than a regular habit.

The only time I read print magazines is at the doctor’s office; the only time I ever read a print newspaper is when I visit my dad. (Sorry, dad. The Union Tribune is great.)

However, I do remember reading magazines frequently as a preteen. I eagerly awaited the arrival of Seventeen and Vogue in the mail once a month. I also read print articles for classes and for entertainment.

Sometime during the past 20 years, publishing went through a radical evolution. We’ve seen book, magazine, and newspaper publishers go from treating digital content production as an optional afterthought to moving their entire businesses into a digital-first model.

In this article, I’ll walk you through a few of the key technological advancements that made digital publishing possible; explore the shift from print-first to digital-first publishing; and look at a few examples of innovative digital publishing today.

Print-First Digital Publishing: 1982 – 1999

Magazines CD-ROM

Source: eBay

The first rumblings of the digital publishing revolution began making waves in the early 1980s with the growing adoption personal computers. At that point, internet access was still relatively sparse, so publishers initially distributed content on CD-ROMs.

In the 1990s, eBooks grew in popularity, and publishers began to create content in PDF and ePub formats for digital consumption. PDFs were easy to create—publishers just exported press-ready files they were already creating for their print magazines and books. ePub was a separate digital format derived from the Quark or InDesign compositor files.

One important thing to note is that, during this era, digital publishing started with design files built for print production and were then converted for digital use. The concept of digital-first publishing, with the exception of some early eZines, hadn’t caught on yet.

These technological advances primed consumers for digital magazine consumption—but hardware presented a problem. Desktop devices accounted for the bulk of PCs in the 1990s, and people only wanted to spend so much time chained to a desk. In order for digital publishing to really take off, tech manufacturers needed to come up with a more convenient platform for consuming digital content.

Shifting the Print-First Paradigm: 2000 – Today

Digital First Publishing

Source: Amazon

Post-Y2K, hardware advances began to happen at a rapid pace. In 2000, Microsoft launched their first line of Tablet PCs, and other manufacturers jumped on the tablet bandwagon immediately. In 2003, ePaper hit the market, and eReaders appeared shortly after, culminating in the release of the first Amazon Kindle in 2007.

The real kicker for digital publishing was the release of Apple’s iPad in 2010. With the Apple brand behind tablets, consumers clamored to get their hands on one. And this huge spike in demand accelerated the shift from print-first to digital-first publishing.

The the term digital-first publishing was coined by Andrew Miller of The Guardian in 2011 to describe a new content development approach. Rather than focusing on creating content for print and then translating that content for specific platforms, a digital-first approach considers the story in all of its variations during the ideation process. This approach allows content creators to explore the best way to convey their message for each specific medium, instead of shoehorning a piece of content built for a single medium into multiple formats.

Although most digital publishers have moved to a digital-first approach, that doesn’t mean print publications have gone away. Even with the widespread adoption of tablets and eReaders, print circulation is still a ways from disappearing altogether.

What it does mean is that publishers are investing more resources into creating great digital assets as well as quality print pieces. They’re also reallocating their budgets to spend more on forward-looking digital content such as interactive articles and magazines.

Digital Publishing at Its Best: 5 Examples

Here at Ceros, I’ve been fortunate to work with some digital publishing innovators who are creating fantastic interactive magazines using our platform. Here are a few examples of how brands and publishers are pushing the envelope when it comes to online content creation.

Dallas Cowboys

Carter vs. Romo Digital Magazine

This editorial piece on players Quincy Carter and Tony Romo could have been written as a series of static articles. Instead, the Cowboys created a rich, interactive experience that uses text, images, videos, and animations to bring these players’ stories to life.

Crush

Crush Magazine

Food and lifestyle magazine Crush is a fantastic digital-only publication for foodies. Not only is their content great, but their animated, easy to read articles make it a pleasure to (virtually) page through.

Tennis Tuesday

Tennis Tuesday Online Magazine

Tennis Tuesday, an offshoot of Tennis Magazine, is another digital-only publication creating highly engaging editorial content. This free publication presents a nice mix of player news, tennis how-tos, and social content in a highly accessible format.

Delhaize Magazine

Delhaize Online Magazine

Online food purveyor Delhaize is creating some beautiful interactive magazines for their audience. Each recipe showcases their products while also providing highly valuable free content.

Moncler

Moncler eMagazine

Retailer Moncler created this fantastic interactive gazette in partnership with Pharrell Williams. The content reinforces their brand ethos while also leveraging their celebrity endorser to his full advantage with videos, GIFs, and images. (Sadly, no Arby’s hat featured, though.)

The Bottom Line

From magazines on CD-ROM to today’s richly interactive magazines and articles, digital publishing has evolved drastically over the past two decades.

Before you go, tell me in the comments: What do you think the next iteration of digital publishing will look like?

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