Issuu, Now California-Based, Helps Niche Publishers Go Digital

Say you’re a small publisher producing a print-only publication—anything from a hobbyist magazine to a regional real estate guide to a crafts catalog. You know you could reach more readers if you could offer a digital version. But you don’t have a huge design staff, and you can’t afford the expensive software, such as Adobe’s InDesign and Digital Publishing Suite, that’s usually needed to build a complex, interactive, tablet-friendly digital magazine.

If your publication is subscription-based, you can turn to companies like San Francisco-based Zinio, which makes a newsstand app for mobile devices with access to digital facsimiles of some 5,500 consumer-oriented magazines. But there’s a very long tail of niche print publications—millions around the world—that are distributed free of charge and earn money mainly through ad sales. Zinio-style marketplaces aren’t an option for these publications. But they still need help going digital.

The company many of these publications are turning to has, until recently, been virtually unknown in the United States. It’s called Issuu, and over the last year it has hired an American CEO and transplanted its headquarters from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Palo Alto, CA.

At the same time, it has achieved explosive traffic growth—proving that online readers are happy to engage with content that matches their interests, even if it wasn’t originally designed for online consumption. Publications upload their latest issues to Issuu in a static, PDF-like form that looks like what readers otherwise see in print. Visitors can access them through any desktop or mobile Web browser, and a reader containing the Issuu version of a publication can be embedded in any Web page.

The Issuu "feed" shows magazines newly added to the platform.

The Issuu “feed” shows publications newly added to the platform.

In a world where online publications compete fiercely for every page view, almost all of the statistics about Issuu are startling. Its library includes 14 million separate publications, attracting 81 million unique visitors in October (up from 66 million in August). The average visitor spends 7.5 minutes flipping through the pages of Issuu-based publications. In aggregate, Issuu clients rack up 7 billion to 8 billion page views every month. That puts Issuu on a par with huge sites like Yahoo News, which claims 83 million unique visitors per month and roughly 5 billion page views per month.

Joe Hyrkin, the new CEO of the seven-year-old company, says Issuu is doing for print publications what YouTube did for video producers.

“If you remember the early 2000s, there was very little video content on the Internet, and it was pretty cumbersome to work with,” Hyrkin says. “Then YouTube came along, and in one click you could make your video content shareable and accessible, because of the ubiquity of broadband. We are doing the same thing for published magazines and catalogs…I am really focused on Issuu becoming the leader of an ecosystem.”

Unlike Zinio, the Apple Newsstand on iOS devices, or the Google Play Newsstand on Android devices, Issuu presents magazines in an HTML5 format that works on any Web-capable desktop computer or mobile device. Typically, magazine content is paired on the page with teasers showing recommended content from other Issuu publications. The basic version of Issuu is free, and the company makes money by giving publishers the option to pay to turn these recommendations off.

“We have tens of thousands of publishers paying us between $20 and $40 per month” for the recommendation-free environment, as well as other services such as targeted promotion, says Hyrkin, who was previously CEO of Reverb and is a veteran of Gaia Interactive and Yahoo.

Issuu, founded in 2006 by Michael Hansen, Ruben Bjerg Hansen, Mikkel Jensen, and Martin Ferro-Thomsen, has been on a growth tear ever since it revamped its recommendation system this summer. On every page, readers are now directed to publications closely related to the one they’re currently reading. Hyrkin says this has dramatically reduced Issuu’s “bounce rate”—the number of readers who leave after reading just one article or one publication—and increased the time each reader spends browsing. Among readers who view at least three pages of content, the average time-on-site is … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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One response to “Issuu, Now California-Based, Helps Niche Publishers Go Digital”

  1. chirisdex says:

    Compared with Zinio, the Apple company Newsstand on iOS gadgets, or the Search engines Play Newsstand on Android operating system gadgets, Issuu provides publications in an HTML5 structure that works on any Web-capable pc or cellular phone. Generally, journal material is combined on the site with teasers displaying suggested material from other Issuu guides. The primary edition of Issuu is free, and the company makes money by providing marketers the choice to pay to turn these suggestions off.