There is often a lot of confusion when it comes to digital publishing. For publishers, the risk is not realizing the enormous possibilities that it offers. Here we have tried to analyze all the most interesting ones.

In these complicated times, we have again realized how central the role of book publishing is. Books have kept us company, and in this period of forced closures, books have been considered a “primary good” that has opened us up to new worlds.

Our legislative bodies have tried to move with this awareness: some actions have been put in place to protect bookstores, for example, even the smallest ones. These actions can certainly be improved and implemented in a broader way, but that nevertheless, they give a clear signal. 

An even clearer signal comes, however, from the data on the impact of the COVID-19 emergency on the industry. 

We’ll look at this data in the next paragraph. Pay attention, because it is very interesting. 


A truly surprising hold… mostly thanks to digital 

Let’s start with the most surprising point: In 2020, the total turnover of the publishing sector grew by 2.4% compared to 2019.  This result becomes even more significant if we consider that from January to April, the sector’s turnover had plummeted by a catastrophic 20%.  

A good recovery came as early as June: down 11% on the previous year.  

By September, year-on-year losses had fallen even further, to -7%.  

At the end of the year, driven by sales during the Christmas holidays, the industry entered positive territory (+2.4%, in fact), in a very complicated year for all sectors (and there is no need to dwell on this). 

But let’s try to go even deeper into the analysis of this data, to isolate some very eloquent points that concern the main theme of this article: digital publishing. Or, to put it even better, publishing and digital. 

We refer, first of all, to the data on online book sales: from January to April, this was 48% of the total (note: against an average of 27% for the entire previous year). Of course, bookstores were closed for most of this period. On closer inspection, however, if we move on to July (with bookstores already open for a couple of months throughout Italy) the trend is still confirmed: online sales still made up 44% of the total. 

So, are physical bookstores destined for decline? We believe not. 

But we also strongly believe that the bookstores themselves (both chain and neighborhood bookstores) must have the flexibility to integrate the physical and digital sides.  

It’s not just a question of adapting to the reality of the times; it’s also – and above all – a question of the great opportunities that open up with this integration and interaction between the two sides (which concerns sales methods, of course, but also the decisive aspects of marketing and communication… which we’ll come back to shortly). 

Here is another significant fact, closely related to digital publishing. 

In 2020, ebook sales grew by 27% compared to 2019. 

After that – for years – the ebook had struggled to grow much, despite the great expectations around it (often, however, based on comparisons that were not based on trends, for example, of the record market, which passed from physical media to online very quickly and abruptly).  

And watch out especially for podcasts and audiobooks, which are often enjoyed through dedicated platforms based on subscriptions: for this branch, the increase compared to 2019 was 94%. In closing this paragraph: it is interesting to note that the same trend of increased revenue that occurred in Italy is confirmed in countries such as the United Kingdom (+5.5% for the publishing sector compared to 2019) and the Netherlands (even +7% over the previous year).  

One European country bucking the trend?  

Portugal, with a serious drop in sales (-19% total), due to the poor development of e-commerce and, more generally, of the integration of digital in the book supply chain… and that says a lot ( 


Digital publishing: a necessity, many opportunities 

Digital Transformation is the key to the world in which we are all immersed. It’s a process that began many years ago, but one that accelerated in an unprecedented way due to the outbreak of the pandemic. The issue is very simple: digital has saved our economies and our production systems, limiting the damage; it has saved schools; it has allowed us to continue to have a certain degree of social interaction (this is also a “necessary good”). 

Digital has saved us in the emergency; but this boost will certainly not end with the exit – which we all hope – from this troubled period.  

This also applies to the book industry which, due to its intrinsic structure, tends to evolve and change more slowly than other sectors that are more streamlined and have fewer centuries of important history behind them. 

In short: the way we read is changing and continuing to change. Above all it will change the way we relate to books, and to everything that revolves around them. 

Herein lies a central point.  And it is important to ask: what is digital publishing? What does it mean? (The answer seems obvious…but only at first glance; and we’ll come back to that later.) 

We’ve already suggested this above. Let’s not make the mistake of making hasty comparisons with other industries and other cultural products. Too many times we have read or heard prophecies about the imminent extinction of the paper book and its obsolescence. Prophecies that are not based on facts, and that are disproven by facts (and data). 

But if we shift the focus of our attention, we realize that – in reality – the great changes have taken place (and are taking place) above all around the book itself. 

That’s why we decided to close this article by isolating what we think are the 4 most interesting trends in digital publishing. 

We’ll address them quickly and concretely, and we think they can be a useful compass for those in the industry. 


Digital publishing: 4 trends for the future 

1. Podcasts 

Let’s start from a trend we have already mentioned: the exponential growth of podcasts

A trend that is not only Italian… indeed, overseas, but podcast listening is also even more widespread. According to the latest data, 51% of the population of the United States has listened to at least one podcast (we’re talking about about 144 million people); 70% have heard of this medium (in 2006 this percentage was only 22%). (Source: Edison Research). 

This trend is of interest to publishers both directly, i.e. by investing in the production of original podcasts to add to their traditional business, and indirectly, as a marketing tool and as a complement to their top book releases.  

In fact, audio products are starting to multiply as a derivative of books, as spin-offs, “behind the scenes,” and much more. In short, they are an effective tool for increasing circulation and for grabbing the audience’s attention. 


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2. Video: from streaming presentations to book trailers 

If audio is proving to be a great resource, video is certainly one of the most important multimedia digital publishing tools. 

And this should not surprise us: video is, to all intents and purposes, the king of digital content, the one that guarantees the greatest diffusion on all channels, the highest rate of attention from users, the greatest possible involvement. 


3. Digital marketing 

We have already mentioned above the possibilities of digital video marketing. But that’s not all, of course. Another playing field that publishing houses must attend to with great attention is that of Social Media Marketing where more and more “book influencers” are starting to appear. Then there is the whole field of communities and the first dedicated apps

In short, the field of Digital Marketing for the publishing industry is vast, with many areas that are still to be explored. 

We have dedicated this post of our blog to the topic. Check it out for more insights. 


4. Digital Personalization 

Above all, digital means a huge new amount of “data.” This, in turn, translates into an increasingly accurate knowledge of one’s audience. 

We’re talking about the enormous amount of “digital traces” that we all leave online on a daily basis. When we make a search on Google, when we express preferences on social media, when we shop, when we leave feedback on Amazon, when we geolocate, and much, much more. 

This information can be cross-referenced to analyze the so-called “sentiment” of very broad targets, but also and above all, it can be used to learn how to address increasingly specific targets, right down to individual people. To pass, in short, from a one-to-many point of view to a one-to-one one

A concrete example? 

Think of the possibilities of keeping track of your readers: people who have purchased from the publisher’s online shop, or who have used a loyalty card in the bookstore, or – again – who have interacted on social networks. All this with the help of a good CRM software.  

Well, from this data you can create truly personalized campaigns. With the Doxee Pvideo® tool, for example, you can create unique and personalized videos, automatically, even for very large audiences. Videos tailored to the characteristics of the individual recipient, that are interactive,  and that can be distributed via email or through other direct dialog channels (from social to dedicated apps). 

And that’s just one of the huge possibilities that come with the digital personalization that companies like Doxee are all about. And the field here is not vast…it’s even larger! 

In short: for publishing houses, digital publishing means creating a digital ecosystem around the book and establishing a new relationship with readers that is multi-channel, multimedia… but increasingly intimate.