Issuu, Now California-Based, Helps Niche Publishers Go Digital
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21.5 minutes, an eternity in the Web publishing world; that kind of data means readers are looking at a lot of in-publication ads in the process.
The startup has raised $11.5 million, mainly from the Danish venture firm Sunstone Capital. It has 50 employees, most still in Copenhagen. The whole business is built around the fact that most publishers have spent decades using desktop publishing tools to create their layouts, even if they’re bound for print publication. That means they end up with PDF, InDesign, QuarkXpress, or MS Publisher files, which are difficult to share in their raw form, but at least have the advantage of being digital. The original idea at Issuu was to make it easy to upload such files for browsing on the Web. Today, Hyrkin says, clients do exactly that 25,000 times a day.
There’s an obvious downside to the idea of plopping print-oriented content onto a Web page. For readers who may have grown accustomed to slick tablet-based magazines like the iPad versions of Wired or Bloomberg BusinessWeek, tapping or mousing around a PDF isn’t the most inviting or comfortable way to experience periodical content. But for publications whose creators, readers, and advertisers aren’t ready to give up their attachment to print, Issuu offers a useful bridge to the digital world. And its rapid growth is a demonstration that the Web and mobile devices need not be off-limits to small or mid-range print publications.
“It’s this great tool for marrying the beauty of print and print-like content with the efficiency and distribution capabilities of digital,” Hyrkin says. “There’s a lot of discussion that the old publishing models are dead. I don’t think they’re dead by any means. They’re thriving more than ever before, and we see all kinds of publications that are proving it by increasingly catering to people’s tastes. What we need are platforms that facilitate engagement with this burgeoning content.”
The tastes represented in Issuu’s library can be extremely specific. For instance, there’s Concrete Wave, which covers the sport of longboarding; Simply Knitting, which markets itself as “the U.K.’s No. 1 knitting magazine”; The Louisiana Jam, a monthly that covers music, events, arts, and cultural life in southwestern Louisiana; and Baltimore Gay Life, a monthly for LGBT readers in central Maryland.
There are even a few digital-only publications that use Issuu because it provides a print-like experience. The movie actor and artist Shia Lebeouf, for example, distributes his drawings via an Issuu-based zine called TheCampaignBook.
Only 25 percent of the content on Issuu is from the U.S. and only 40 percent is in English. The rest comes mostly from Europe and Latin America. This large international base is part of Issuu’s reason for sticking with Web-based distribution, Hyrkin says. “HTML5 continues to have the broadest access,” he says. “If the focus is around breadth, it makes a lot of sense to start with the Web.”
But don’t expect Issuu to be a Web-only publisher forever. “We started off here, it served us well and it served our publishers well, and with responsive design, HTML5 is really good,” Hyrkin says. But eventually, the company needs to offer iOS and Android apps as well, he says. And beyond the notion of reproducing static PDF magazine pages, Issuu plans to help publishers create content that’s more interactive. “There is just more that you could do with an app,” he says.
One thing you won’t see at Issuu anytime soon: subscriptions. All of the content on the platform will continue to be free to readers for the foreseeable future, Hyrkin says. “We are not in the subscription management business,” he says. Most publishers on Issuu don’t charge for the print versions of their publications, so they see the platform mainly as a way to reach more readers and attract more eyeballs to their pages—which can, in turn, help justify advertising spending.
“We give publishers statistics they are not getting elsewhere,” Hyrkin says. “This is real data about the content and the ads served, and we hear anecdotally that publishers are going back to advertisers with the data. They’re saying, ‘We are going to charge you this amount for advertising in the print version, and this additional amount to give you a deeper, wider audience and related statistics.’”
While Hyrkin isn’t ready to say definitively whether Issuu is developing native iOS and Android versions of its reader, he says he’s definitely pushing to keep the growth going, primarily by making it even easier for Issuu readers to discover content matching their interests.
“I look at the scale we’re at right now as proof that we have a really strong, compelling offering,” Hyrkin says. “So it’s about getting in front of more readers. If you are into scuba diving or organic farming, we want people to know this is really the best place to be getting it.”
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