A Publishing Paradox: How the Best Publishers Fail to Succeed


publishing mistakes

Introduction: The Fear of Failure in Digital Publishing 

Ask people what their greatest fear is and you’ll likely hear “failure” sooner or later. That’s because most people are inherently terrified of letting others, let alone themselves, down. Failing can be detrimental to the ego. So to protect their egos, people tend to avoid failure like it’s the plague. And it’s no different when it comes to digital publishers.


But this behavior comes with a hidden cost. Failure is transformational. It can spur you into taking the initiative and refining your skills as an online publisher. Tackling failure head-on with a steely resolve will make you more resilient to it and less prone to making the same mistakes twice.


So how else does failure help you grow as a digital publisher?

Failing forces you out of your comfort zone, literally

An unsuccessful venture can act as a catalyst for transformative action. Publishers can use this opportunity to physically step out of their comfort zones and get the help they need. Publishing events and seminars, traveling, networking—all are fantastic countermeasures for offsetting failure. Budgeting is always a concern, but you can’t be afraid to pay for an opportunity when it comes knocking. That upcoming event you’ve never attended before might be exactly what you need.


Straying from your comfort zone also has the added benefit of leading to new ideas or pathways to success. Expos and conferences, for example, are often lauded by publishers as rich reservoirs from which new ideas can (and should) be fished for. These gatherings are often attended by like-minded publishers with similar aspirations and reinforce the amity between them. They’ve seen similar successes and failures. And to overcome the latter, many will sit down with you, share their experiences, and advocate new ideas to prevent future mishaps with your publishing strategy.

Failing pinpoints weaknesses and charts the course for improvement

Picture this: you finally completed your digital magazine after 6 months of non-stop, hard work. You set its price and decided to sell it too. After a month’s time, however, you discover that only 2 copies were sold. What happened? In this case, your pricing model may have very well been the culprit of your failure. So try something else. Give away your publication for free. It’s a great promotional tool that many publishers and marketing agencies recommend, and it’s one that many try. By doing so, you’ve acknowledged your weaknesses and are already improving. The best publishers apply this same logic to multiple scenarios and improve quickly. Remember, there is an alternative solution for every shortcoming when it comes to digital publishing.

Learning from Failure: Gaining Clarity and Direction

Failing paints a clearer picture of good

You won’t know what good looks like until you catch a glimpse of bad. Failing carries with it the power of clarity. It will teach you to see more accurately and you’ll learn to differentiate between a great and not-so-great publishing idea. Over time, you’ll be more inclined to produce the former because your failures will show you what good looks like. Moreover, studies have shown that you’re much more likely to produce a great idea if you go through a lot of bad ones first. In this case, it’s quantity over quality.


It won’t be easy at first. We’re programmed from a young age to invariably associate failure with defeat. And with a society seemingly hell-bent on success, it becomes all too easy to overlook the importance of it. But failure is a necessary cog in the digital publishing machine. So experiment, fail, learn, and succeed. Your successes won’t always hinge on your failures as a publisher, but the two are more closely related than you think.



How is failure actually good for digital publishers?

Answer: Failure is not the end but a stepping stone for growth. It encourages publishers to explore new strategies, connect with others at events, and embrace fresh ideas. Recognizing what doesn't work allows you to refine your approach and build resilience.

What should I do if my digital publication fails to sell?

Answer: View low sales as a signal to reevaluate your strategy. Consider adjusting your pricing, using your publication as a free promotional tool, or trying new marketing methods. Each attempt helps you learn what works best for your audience.

Can failure improve my digital content?

Answer: Yes, experiencing what doesn't work helps you understand what does. Producing a lot of content, even if not all of it succeeds, increases your chances of creating something truly great. This trial and error process is key to developing successful digital content.