As much as recent years have brought improvements and conveniences to publishing, they’ve ushered in various challenges too. Even though the industry’s most prevalent issues aren’t likely to sound its death knell, they can be disruptive or debilitating.

We’ve delved into the most common problems of modern publishing, as well as possible remedies or solutions, below.

1. Obtaining Audience Demographics

Unless magazines and newspapers were part of their output, selling advertising space wasn’t something many publishers were traditionally concerned about. Websites and digitization have changed that, which means publishers have the option of an additional income stream. But it’s not without a specific challenge—namely, potential advertisers have an interest in demographics; data that publishers are not known for collecting.

When thinking of advertisers as purchasing audiences rather than ad space or publications, the importance of demographics becomes clearer. The easiest ways for publishers to collect information such as age, gender, income segment and purchase intent would be through email campaigns and onsite surveys before, during or after checkout.

2. Referral Marketing

Publishers have long understood the power of referral marketing or word of mouth, at least in the traditional sense. One of the common problems of modern publishing is leveraging social media for referral marketing in a bid to acquire and keep loyal customers.

A 2016 Harris poll revealed that 82% of Americans ask family and friends for recommendations when considering making a purchase. The same poll found that 67% of Americans were more likely to purchase a product that friends or family recommended on social media or via email. An easy way for publishers to promote referral marketing that potentially translates into sales is by creating social media posts with shareable links. This makes it easy for just about anyone to share the information globally and increases potential buy-in to an affiliate program.

3. Retaining Readers

Attracting, and more specifically retaining, readers has always been one challenge of publishing. However, the proliferation of offline and online options has highlighted this common problem.

In an offline setting, publishers face the challenge of getting their books or other products to stand out from the others on the shelves in stores. In the digital environment, publishers have the same challenge in online stores. Plus, they face trying to keep readers on the site for as long as possible.

Good book cover designs, marketing campaigns and creative merchandizing are some of how publishers can attract readers in an offline context. When it comes to online, personalization is a possible remedy to the problem.

The technology used to personalize the customer experience automatically gathers and analyzes online behavior and user input. Not only can this result in recommendations and other elements that apply to individuals, it can provide publishers with insights they can use for marketing lists and targeted ad campaigns too.

4. Independent Publishing

Several years ago, no traditional publisher would’ve thought of independent publishing (also known as self-publishing or vanity publishing) as a challenge. However, times have changed. Traditional publishers are becoming more selective about signing new writers, and they face competition from successful self-published authors.

According to Linchpin CEO, an increasing number of writers are turning to indie or self-publishing. This often results in greater financial benefits than those offered by a traditional publishing contract, as well as the retention of the rights to their work. The challenge this poses to traditional publishers is that it reduces their options when signing new authors.

A few traditional publishers have tried to remedy the situation by running competitions for the best self-published novels. Such contests help those companies to identify the most successful writers, who they then proceed to woo with publishing contacts. Gaining fresh talent that’s proven to hold market value decreases the risks that come with publishing an unknown first-time author.

5. Fake Product Reviews

Negative or positive, fake reviews are a common problem in modern publishing. The result of this is that fewer people trust reviews, whether they’re the publishers or potential customers.

Fakespot founder and CEO Saoud Khalifah told Forbes that 70% of reviews on Amazon are fake, and, according to Linchpin CEO, a 2013 study found that one in five Yelp reviews were not real.

One remedy for the problem is tying reviews to purchases. This would exclude bots as well as competitors’ employees from creating fake reviews. Another remedy is for publishers to target several marketplaces in a bid to increase their customer bases, which could lead to more real reviews.

6. Print vs. Digital          

It’s no secret that print media has struggled in recent years as an increasing number of readers are choosing digital platforms. Fipp CEO James Hewes said that as many as 58% of online subscribers identified as being print-first readers. He also explained that between 60 and 80% of publishing revenues are still generated by print sales. Hewes added that an interest in print first does not exclude an interest in digital texts, and vice versa—subscribers who identify as digital-first may also have an interest in print.

A possible remedy for this common problem is to give customers the choice of a print option, or a downloadable file formatted for home printers. One example of this was the launch of Facebook’s print magazine, Grow.

7. Various Consumption Modes

In the past, most publishers focused on print or text publications, with a few offering the option of audiobooks too. The problem with sticking to a text-only approach is that it alienates customers who appreciate, and make use of, other consumption modes.

Publishers should find out their customers’ content delivery preferences and then create appropriate options such as audio and video content.


There can be little doubt that the publishing industry is being disrupted and challenged by various elements and factors. And that it must change in various ways to meet those challenges.

By responding creatively, traditional publishers can ensure they still have something to offer an increasingly digital world in which more writers and authors are doing things by themselves.