Careers in online publishing: what you need to know
Learn about what online publishing is, the types of employers you can work for and the main roles you can choose from.
Online publishing is a relatively new area, but it is growing in scale all the time.
The differences between traditional and online publishing
There is a lot of overlap between online and offline publishing, but there are some distinct differences:
- People reading online content tend to be looking for a more immediate hook, whether they’re sitting upright at a computer or scrolling through their smartphone on the bus. Text may be broken up into shorter paragraphs with attention-grabbing headings to make it easier for people to find the information they want quickly.
- Many online articles and ebooks can be edited even after publication, but it’s still a good idea to take care and proofread text before it's published.
- The way customers find new publications is different online. Cover design and blurbs still have an influence, but metadata (such as key words) and algorithms (for deciding which order search results appear in and recommending articles or books that might suit someone based on their previous activity) are also important.
- While attractive page design matters as much online as in print, it’s also important for text and images to load quickly and to be adaptable to different devices and screen sizes.
- Potentially everyone has the means to publish work through their own websites, blogs, social media and other forms of user-generated content, as well as self-published ebooks. As a result, the internet is saturated with content of varying quality. Established publishing companies must continue to uphold very high standards to help their content stand out. It also means that, although writers don’t always need to convince an editor to publish their work, they do have to convince their audience that it is worth reading – so only those who produce high-quality content will be successful.
Businesses that use online publishing
Many media and publishing companies currently use online publishing, and it is likely that this group will only continue to grow. Some of the areas that are worth considering include:
- Traditional publishers, whether they produce business or consumer publications. Increasingly publishing companies are branching out into different media such as mobile apps, videos and podcasts. In some cases the lines between a publishing company and a technology company may become blurred.
- Large organisations across many different sectors also need online publishers to monitor their websites.
- Academic publishers are increasingly moving towards online publishing and virtual learning environments. Open access journal publishing (when research is published online for members of the public to read free of charge) is a recent development that you should be aware of if you're interested in working for an academic publisher.
- Advertising agencies are another significant employer since many of the biggest websites are funded by advertising.
Roles in online publishing
As well as expanding the responsibilities of traditional roles such as editing, design and production, some new roles have opened up in the world of online publishing. These are just a few.
Blogging is an opportunity for you to publish your own writing on your own terms. Being your own boss can be a major bonus and having your own soapbox can be extremely liberating. However, if freelance blogging isn’t for you, then many marketing departments at large scale organisations have their own blogs. You may have to adopt a corporate tone, but there is much greater job security, and still plenty to talk about.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has previously involved getting certain phrases (such as ‘holidays in the Caribbean’) onto a page as many times as possible and in as many ways as possible. However, the received wisdom surrounding SEO is now that you have to make a page as good as possible and as appropriate as possible to its audience. This means that pages with useful advice, interesting information and inbound links from other sites will rank higher in search engines than advertisements with a wall of hidden text saying ‘holidays in the Caribbean, holidays in the Caribbean, holidays in the Caribbean’.
Social media is one of the fastest growing areas of online publishing. It is useful both for raising awareness of articles or books and as a form of publishing in its own right. Twitter is perhaps the most obvious platform, with lots of news providers now using it as a place to break new headlines. Reliability of information (with the prevalence of ‘fake news’) and a lack of regulation are ongoing issues in this area.
In many cases no distinctly new roles have been created; traditional publishers have changed roles or taken on responsibility for some digital elements alongside working on print. Some new training may be required in these situations. At some organisations, the role of editor has expanded to include tasks such as HTML markup, promoting content on social media and assisting with the creation of videos and podcasts.
Training and qualifications required
The good thing about growing up in a culture dependent on information technology is that you will already be reasonably comfortable with much of the training you will need. Most employers will only require knowledge of Microsoft Office, internet browsers and similar technology. This also gives you plenty of opportunities to gain skills and experience in your own time to demonstrate your enthusiasm and commitment: by being active on social media or writing blog posts, for example.
For specialist roles you may be required to undergo further training and qualifications, or have knowledge of specific software such as Adobe InDesign. One of the particular things you will need to brush up on is publishing law. Online publishing broadens the number of people with the power to publish articles, meaning that anyone with that power needs to know what they are doing.