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Is this the future of digital content for publishers?

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Hubert Burda Media

Issuu CEO Joe Hyrkin talks about how the startup is transforming the publishing industry.

Since September 2013, Issuu, the start-up that is providing one way for print media to enter the digital age, has experienced considerable growth.

From the West Coast to the Far East

The company, founded in Copenhagen in 2006, moved its headquarters to Silicon Valley. At the same time, it also appointed a new CEO in Joe Hyrkin, who brought a wealth of experience in digital content discovery from his time at the likes of Yahoo!, Flickr and The Economist.

Hyrkin is satisfied with the progress so far. “In the last 18 months we’ve dramatically grown our footprint. It took us five years to go from zero to 10 million publications – we’re now north of 20 million publications. We’ve added an additional 10 million in just 19 months time.”

The proliferation of new apps and tech, from Flipboard to Amazon’s Kindle, has completely changed the reading experience of digital content. Issuu has exploited another gap in the market, allowing print publishers to render their content via Issuu’s software to make it digitally accessible.

“There is nobody in the digital publishing space that has anywhere close to the reach we have,” Hyrkin boldly claims, “and that global connectivity actually enhances the value of the content we have, publishers’ enthusiasm for working with us and readers’ ability to access the content.”

With the content on Issuu now attracting 85 million unique visitors a month, Hyrkin’s confidence appears well-placed. The potential for print publications to reach an entirely new audience is massive. And naturally, Issuu’s strategy for 2015 is more growth.

“We are expanding our presence and the attention that we’re giving to certain locations. We are extremely strong in Europe, and in the US, where we’ve seen more growth here than anywhere else,” Hyrkin explains. “We also have really significant use and consumption of content in Latin America, particularly Brazil and Mexico.”

To aid this expansion, the company raised a further $10m in Series B funding last July (Issuu has now raised $21.5m since formation). Danish firm Sunstone Capital and the venture capital arm of KDDI, one of Japan’s largest telecoms operators, led the round of investment.

Hyrkin elaborates on how he expects the relationship with KDDI to evolve. “They are starting to invest a lot more and now have an investment arm in Silicon Valley. When they invested in us, they also announced four other companies that they were investing in. They’re taking an active role in the content space.

We like them in part because the global print market is a $980bn market and Japan is the second largest market, behind the US. While we don’t have an office or a massive presence in Japan yet, it’s certainly an area we will be exploring.”

The re-emergence of long-form?

While market expansion is clearly core part of Issuu’s 2015 plans, the company is continuing to match its strategy to emerging hardware trends, having launched mobile apps in 2014 for Android, Windows and for Apple’s iOS 8.

Hyrkin elaborates: “We’re about to enter a real transformative period in publishing and long-form consumption and I think there are several things driving that. One of which is the proliferation of the larger phones, from Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus to the larger Android phones.  Any time you can get a screen with two or three people gathering around it to watch a sporting event, it means that screen now becomes viable and we’re seeing that with these 6” phone screens.

I think we will start to see dramatically more long-form digital content being read. The experience of being able to read a magazine, newspaper or a long-form publication is now completely viable on these screens.”

An increasingly competitive publishing ecosystem

While Issuu’s model allows print media to adapt to the digital age, the competition for readers has also grown from new digital content publishers. The international market is far more expansive now, as Hyrkin explains:

“While a number of traditional major publishers continue to be in New York, we’re seeing innovators, publishers and content-creators develop everywhere because they can now get digital tools that enable them to do that. Facebook, Yahoo! and LinkedIn are now just as important to the publishing ecosystem as more traditional publishing organizations.”

After lightening quick growth in his short time as CEO, Joe Hyrkin can’t be faulted for harbouring high expectations of 2015:

“We believe that the publishing industry is thriving, actually more now than ever before. More content is being consumed, created and shared. What is changing dramatically is the mechanisms of distribution, the mechanisms of access.”

The question is whether Issuu can position itself at the center of it.