Phillip Smith

When should you put your print content online?

Editors & publishers: have you ever asked yourself the question "When should print content go online?" If so, you're in luck...

A handful of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to ask some of the most influential publications in the US (and a handful of my colleagues in the publishing business in Canada) that very question.

I received about ten responses, ranging from smaller bi-monthly publications to large weeklies. The responses were very interesting, and quite consistent. I've compiled the responses here:

Staggering your content additions

The answer was almost unanimous: the addition of print content to the Web site should be staggered.

This trend was either because resources were limited (i.e., the resources aren't available to put all of the content online at once), or -- more often -- because the content is used to keep the Web site fresh by slowly adding the content over the time between editions.

Before subscribers get the content?

A related question that always comes is "Should it go online before subscribers get their subscription? Or after...?"

There were two trends here:

  • Those publications that aim to have some, most, or all of their print content online by the time that the print magazine reaches subscribers.

  • And those that start putting print online at the time it reaches subscribers.

When publications put content online ahead of when print subscribers receive the issue, the content is often online-only content that is referenced from the print magazine, or selections from the magazine that are timely and relevant.

And, of those that choose to delay putting content online until after subscribers receive the issue: everyone indicated that they would put content online ahead of schedule if it was breaking news, e.g., stories on the Gaza conflict, etc.

Even more to think about!

A number of the people who responded provided some great additional reasons for why content should go online in a staggered format:

  • It's better to stagger content for search engine optimization (smaller, more frequent, updates to the site)

  • RSS subscribers that don't want 30 new articles at once

And for putting content online as soon as possible / before the print subscribers receive the issue:

  • Subscribers wanting online access to an article that isn't online yet (to share, or blog about)

  • Acquiring casual readers that aren't likely print subscribers

  • And, most commonly / perhaps most importantly: social media factor. No content = no sharing.

Getting these responses really helped my thinking on the issue, and confirmed a number of casual observations around when publications are putting their print content online. (Thanks to everyone that shared their thoughts with me!)

Hopefully the question of "if" a publication should put print content online has already been answered. ;-)


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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