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The rise of online publishing

Digital communications have witnessed a relatively new phenomenon over the last year - the advent of e-readers such as the Kindle and the iPad. Allan Biggar looks at how business has led the game in online publishing

Recently, the UK Publishers Association reported that there has been a significant increase in the sale of e-books, highlighting the growing popularity of digital readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad.

According to the trade body, digital books jumped by 20 per cent to £180m in 2010. In a year, when book sales totaled £3.1bn, the digital book sector remains relatively small, but the trajectory is clear.

Academic and business publishing embraced digital platforms over a decade ago and continues to lead the field.

Company reports and academic journals are specialist materials but the advent of new technology is putting e-reading devices into consumers' hands and that is clearly driving growth in both sales of technology and content.

Publisher Penguin which publishes celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Jamie Oliver, recently said e-book revenues were up 182 per cent year on year and account for about six per cent, or £63m, of their global revenues. So the publishing house that revolutionized the industry in the 1930s with its inexpensive paperback books, is now at the forefront of pushing books into the digital world.

The good news for customers is that, in the long term, digital books should remove costs of printing in the way that Penguin challenged the traditional norms of publishing 80 years ago.

Interestingly, in a world dominated by social media fuelled by the Facebook generation, it is business (along with academia) which has been ahead of the game in an online publishing. Take the example of company reports which many of us have been absorbed with recently as we file our 2010 accounts.

Up until 2008 (and thanks to the Companies Act 2006) it was once a requirement for any UK listed company to send a printed copy of their annual report to every single shareholder. It was a hugely wasteful exercise that was neither practical nor sustainable and tended to aggravate environmentally-conscious businesses and shareholders alike.

Luckily that is not the case now as companies are able to file reports online and distribute to shareholders and analysts electronically. The Department of Business, Innovation & Skills estimates that UK listed companies have made £47m in cost savings.

For investors and analysts, the publication of the annual report is not the event it once was since by the time it is published they have often already received far more in-depth information from other sources throughout the annual business cycle.

But the annual report remains a significant plank in the communications armoury of a business and its ongoing engagement with stakeholders, and the innovation in online reporting is certainly helping in an online world.

For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit www.freshbusinessthinking.com