How to Create an Online Magazine in 10 Steps
Written by Matt Berringer
January 1, 2022
Digital publishing represents a massive opportunity for traditional publishers and marketers alike. We’ve been in the information age for some time now, and the digital world is still evolving at warp speed. High-value curated content has never been in higher demand, considering roughly 45.3% of U.S. consumers have read a digital magazine in the last 30 days, according to 2018 data.
Online magazines let print publishers find their share of the massive audience of digital natives waiting to discover their content. Small and mid-sized business marketers can incorporate online magazines into their content marketing mix. This high-quality, in-depth format can extend brand awareness and drive more customers into the sales pipeline.
If you’re ready to start an online magazine for your company, this guide is for you. Learn more about this format and the steps to take to get your own publications ready for launch.
Jump to a topic or speak with an expert:
- Identify Your Goals
- Determine Your Unique Value
- Establish a Budget
- Identify a Publishing Platform
- Create a Content Plan
- Decide on the Structure
- Create a Brand Strategy
- Identify a Revenue Model
- Develop a Marketing Strategy
- Talk to an Industry Expert
Common Uses for Online Magazines
Many marketers and publishers use online magazines to:
- Access reader analytics: If you send out paper collateral or printed publications, you have no way of knowing what happens once they’re in your readers’ hands. With an online magazine on the right publishing platform, you can get detailed analytics. See how long readers engage with your articles and what pages they spend their time reading. These metrics give you immediate feedback so you can create more impactful content with every issue.
- Establish additional revenue sources: An online magazine can help all types of publishers gain new sources of revenue. Print publishers can attract new subscribers who prefer digital media. They can also earn income through well-placed digital ads.
- Promote products or services: Marketers often use online magazines as a form of in-depth content marketing. They may provide entertainment or helpful information to their target customers and pepper in promotions for their products and services along the way.
Industries That Benefit From Online Publications
Businesses across many industries use online publications as part of their content marketing strategy. Some of those companies include:
- Traditional publishers: Publishers who have long been creating print magazines their readers love can reach new audiences in the digital landscape. An online edition can be an excellent freebie for print subscribers or available as a stand-alone subscription for digital natives.
- Higher education institutions: Schools can use digital magazines for alumni news or general marketing purposes. Published regularly, these assets can deliver campus news to alumni, students, professors, donors and other stakeholders.
- Sports leagues: Those in the sports industry can update their fans on important team news with a monthly newsletter or produce exclusive content for their season ticket holders with a digital magazine.
- Travel and leisure companies: Hotels, resorts and state and local tourism commissions can use digital magazines to cover popular events and local attractions and generally encourage readers to visit.
- Associations: Industry and trade associations like to keep their members updated on industry news, upcoming conferences and other initiatives the organization embarks on. An online magazine is an excellent way to engage members.
10 Steps to Creating an Online Magazine
Think digital magazines are right for you? Let’s talk about how to launch one for your own business.
1. Identify the Goals of Your Digital Magazine
First things first — what are you trying to accomplish?
Clearly defining your goals is the first step in any project. Like any publication, an online magazine requires you to make decisions regarding what type of audience you’re hoping to reach. This includes how you would like readers to engage with your content. For example, a digital magazine looking to gain subscribers will function differently than an online piece designed to sell a product.
Regardless of your primary goal, another vital part of starting an online magazine is to define your voice and overall brand style. You can often do this by creating style sheets or brand standards.
Decide early on the overall tone of your online presence and stick to it. When you become successful, you can curate a trustworthy team to help carry the workload while remaining true to your brand.
2. Determine What Makes You Unique
How can you develop a plan for sustained success through valuable differentiation? There are some key elements required for a sustainable online magazine business. Most importantly, though, you need to find how you will stick out in a crowded digital media landscape.
Will your content or your creative elements be unique? Will your marketing tactics be differentiated? And will those elements be valuable to your audience? We all need to ask these questions. The content we create must come off as striking and useful to readers so it’s most likely to attract return visits and subscriptions.
Once you’ve uncovered your value proposition and tested it as valuable to a segment of your target audience, it’s crucial to find an intuitive, engaging platform to host your content.
3. Establish a Budget and Estimate Your ROI
Depending on your purposes for creating a digital magazine, your budget can look quite different. If you’re a traditional publisher who already produces content for a printed periodical, digitizing it will require a publishing platform, some related technology and technical skills. If you’re starting a digital magazine from the ground up, you’ll need to budget for an editor-in-chief, writers, designers and other employees to manage content creation.
Once you have your content in hand, the main cost differentiator is in the platform you choose. On a shoestring budget, you can publish your magazine for free as a PDF. However, you’ll still need to find a way to host it online, so even this method is not a true no-cost option. Other low-cost publishing platforms may retain the rights to your work or display their own ads within your publication.
For the best returns on investment (ROI), we recommend starting at the mid-range level. Offering a better user experience and accessing reader analytics will help you grow your digital audience over time. Flipbook magazine publishing tools provide an excellent solution for a mid-range price, while high-end responsive design publishing tools will boost your ROI with a highly engaging user experience.
4. Identify the Best Platform
Every publishing option presents its own benefits and limitations. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what makes the most sense for your brand. While affordability is important, it is also necessary to strive for an impactful experience that will keep bringing your readers back for more.
Common Types of Digital Magazines
When choosing a platform for your magazine, start by considering what’s out there. There are many digital publishing solutions, and they each offer different advantages and disadvantages. Your options to create digital magazines online include:
- Flash magazines: At one point, flash magazines were a popular way to deliver rich, engaging digital viewing experiences. They offered simulated page flipping alongside multimedia content. Since Adobe announced Flash would meet its end in 2020, flash magazines are now a thing of the past.
- PDF magazines: The practically free way to go digital is to publish your magazine as a PDF. This option might be as simple as clicking “publish as PDF” on your document design software. However, this method comes with some drawbacks. PDFs are not mobile-first and add friction to the user experience. Because they have a fixed layout, mobile viewers often have to master a “pinch, zoom and slide” finger dance to view it. They also offer little analytics beyond how many downloads the document receives.
- Native app magazines: Publishers with a loyal readership willing to download a separate app to view content can create a stunning mobile-first experience with their digital magazines. While they take a lot of effort to develop, the payoff is high. Publishers can control the digital experience, include multimedia content, use targeted advertising, and engage their readers with notifications.
- Flipbook magazines: Also called the digital replica, a flipbook mimics the traditional print experience. Documents appear as they would in print and offer the satisfying experience of flipping pages. They’re a middle-of-the-road cost solution that elevates the experience above a traditional PDF. They also provide publishers with enhanced reader analytics.
- HTML5 magazines: These publications use the same coding as a website, allowing for a responsive design. Text and graphics will reflow to any screen size for an awesome user experience from anywhere. They can be hosted online and require no downloading whatsoever. Plus, they offer detailed analytics and incredible design flexibility.
Let’s take a deeper dive into some of the options at your disposal.
What Are the Differences Between a PDF and a Flipbook?
The PDF is a widely-used platform for sharing digital content. It is inexpensive and easy to customize, but it lacks an overall impact. A standard PDF leaves much to be desired in terms of interactivity and can cause serious frustration when reading on a mobile device. We all know the pain of pinching to zoom on our phone screen.
Additionally, once downloaded, a PDF can no longer be tracked as the experience moves offline. In a time when data about your readers is so important, PDFs can leave you feeling out in the cold.
Flipbooks offer a more functional solution where you can actually recreate the feel of a print magazine in digital format. This is great for the desktop environment and functions well on tablets. Still, like the PDF, it becomes a bit of a challenge on a mobile device, as pinching to zoom is often a necessity.
In this way, PDFs and typical flipbooks offer lower-priced options that allow you to control the published content. They may fall short in impact and ease of use.
Here you’ll find an example of a Norwegian Cruise Lines flipbook in our nxtbook4 platform. It’s important to note we go beyond the standard flipbook interface by giving options for a scrolling text version of the content. This allows the reader to see the content without pinching to zoom.
When and How Should You Use Apps for Your Digital Magazine?
If phone compatibility is your priority, apps are a great add-on for sharing your online magazine. They also help you understand user engagement, as you’ll be able to track your most effective content.
Going with a native app has numerous advantages and disadvantages. First, it allows you to be an active part of the design process. Compatible with smartphones and tablets, apps are easy to use and will provide a seamless experience. The downside is that they can be challenging to create and often costly — especially if you don’t have a team dedicated to making sure the app runs smoothly.
If a native app is your preferred platform, read more about how Nxtbook Media can make this easier for you.
A subscription app is another option for those without a team of app developers. In this scenario, your online magazine exists on an app alongside various other publications. You may get more viewers due to the popularity of these platforms and the marketing done on your behalf by the app owner.
Unfortunately, this does limit your ability to control the design and functionality of the publication. The platform’s rules may limit what and how you share your content. Also, the subscription app developer will take a hefty cut of the subscription to your online magazine. In some cases, you give over the rights to your content when you place it on a subscription app. Be sure to read the fine print!
What Is a Responsive Online Magazine Solution?
Responsive digital magazines are adaptable to any device. In essence, no matter what device you are on, the content will reflow. This means no more pinching to zoom! Using this technology, your readers can fully participate in remaking the design on desktop, resizing it to an experience that fits best in their current content consumption. These platforms can even include video and audio. They’re ready for any and all content you could produce. By supporting rich media and mobile viewing, they can effectively increase magazine engagement.
Just as flipbooks and apps do, these responsive magazines provide data that gives you feedback for improving your publication. Using this data, you can track your readers’ behavior and cater your content accordingly.
Interested in how a responsive online magazine looks? Check out our work with Disney and the adaptability of our very own responsive platform, PageRaft.
5. Create a Content Plan
Some brands planning to enter the digital publishing landscape are already creating content worthy of an online magazine. If you’re stuck or need support before creating your publication, there are great sources that can help.
You can find content writers easily online, and there are sites to connect you with great writers who are eager to contribute. Stock photos and videos are also excellent ways to increase the appeal of your site or magazine. Images from Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay are some of our favorites.
Before you know it, you’ll master the art of content creation, and you may even need to expand your team of editors and designers to help you maintain your growing online magazine. We believe you can do it!
6. Decide on a Structure for Your Magazine
Having a predetermined structure for your magazine will make it easier to manage. You’ll always know how many articles and pages of content you need to fill each issue. You’ll also have some regular topics that you know you need to cover. Break your table of contents into sections that are relevant to your reader — such as “Current Events,” “Arts and Culture” and “Sports,” or whatever makes sense for your niche. Decide how many articles or pages will fit into each section.
It’s also a good idea to map out every issue. If you’re planning on creating a flipbook-style magazine, consider how the left and right-hand pages on each spread will speak to each other. Set page limits or word counts to help you better manage articles that span multiple pages and how they’ll appear in the final layout. You may have predetermined slots for splash images or full-page ads.
If you’re planning on creating an interactive magazine with a responsive design, your finished product won’t look quite like a typical print edition. Users will navigate by scrolling or swiping left to right. Each article will fit onto one page, which the reader can scroll down on infinitely. Therefore, you don’t need to hit a specific page limit or word count with each article. They can be as short or as long as necessary to cover the story in depth, and pictures can appear wherever you like.
With a responsive magazine, your main concern will be structuring the publication to have enough articles. Since each piece will take up just one “page,” no matter how long, you’ll need a wide variety of individual articles to flesh out the publication. You’ll also want to pay attention to ad placement and how it breaks up the flow of your articles. Ads can take up an entire page or appear as thin columns between two articles.
7. Choose Design Elements and Create a Brand Strategy
Some of the most famous print magazines actually obscure part of their own logos with the headshots that appear on their covers. That’s because these publishers have mastered branding so well that onlookers don’t even need to read the title to recognize it instantly. While your publication may not need to stand out on the rack the way a print edition does, digital magazine design is just as critical. A consistent visual style will help readers connect with and remember your brand.
Your visual identity will communicate what you stand for and who your content appeals to. Focus on sending the right message every time by developing a brand strategy, complete with a brand book of rules for all your designers, writers and editors to follow.
Consider the fonts, colors, photography style and graphic elements you want to associate with your brand.
Besides the design elements, your branding strategy should also include directives for language use, such as tone of voice and word choice. Even the most multimedia-rich magazine will be driven by well-written, consistent content. Ensure it all sends the right message and feels like it’s written by one person, even if your team is hundreds strong.
8. Consider Some Common Magazine Revenue Models
You’re likely creating an online magazine because it’s a potential money-maker. If you’re a marketing manager at a small business, a high-quality digital periodical can be a cornerstone of your content marketing strategy. By drawing in an audience, you’re also expanding your customer base. If you’re publishing articles as your main business, you have several potential avenues to monetize your content. Some of your options include:
Just as with print magazines, you can charge your audience a monthly or annual subscription fee in exchange for access. The most successful publishers offer a range of subscription tiers and options. An all-access plan at the highest tier may allow readers to access digital publications, exclusive videos and extra content. Some subscription plans may combine print with digital, letting readers access both versions. Other options may allow readers to access the digital version only.
Another way to make money on your content is advertising. Free magazines often have a wider readership because there’s no friction involved in accessing them. Some people think of the internet as a means to free information and may not be willing to pay a subscription for something they usually get for free. Publishers who don’t require subscriptions use advertising as their primary source of revenue. Periodical publishers generated $9.68 billion in revenue in 2019 through ad sales alone.
The right brands will pay well to get in front of the right audience. By developing a niche, loyal audience, publishers cultivate fertile ground for advertisers. They can embed ads directly or create sponsored articles that blend quality content with brand or product mentions.
If a reader must have a subscription to view your magazine, they’ll likely meet a paywall when they first try to access your content. A paywall is a barrier that allows your publications to rank in search engines without letting readers see it before paying. They may pay for access to the individual article or pay a subscription for unlimited access.
You can also customize your paywall to appear part-way through your magazine. This gives readers a taste of your content before asking them to pay to continue. Additionally, you can customize the paywall to kick in after they’ve viewed a certain number of issues or articles.
Magazines as Lead Generation
Content marketers may not be in the business of selling or monetizing their publications. Instead, they’re using helpful articles to convince customers to buy their products or services. A digital magazine may be premium content within that strategy. While prospects can still access it without paying, they offer up their email or contact information in exchange. This strategy plays the long game. The content itself can help push them further along in the buyer’s journey, and the marketing team now has contact information they can use to send more marketing materials their way.
9. Create a Digital Marketing Strategy
Once you’ve created your magazine, you must consider distribution. How will your audience find it? How will you carve out a loyal audience? A solid marketing strategy for your publication should encompass five steps:
- Prepare for launch: First, set a goal for how many downloads you want to receive in your first month. Consider the people most likely to read your publication and announce your launch where they’re likely to see it. If you already have a following on your website and social media channels, tease your launch there. Look for press opportunities where you can build anticipation for your new magazine.
- Create buzz: As soon as your magazine goes live, keep the momentum going by gathering reviews. Email blogs and reviewers in your niche and ask them to review you. If you’ve created a stand-alone app, ask your downloaders to leave reviews and ratings on the app store.
- Promote on all channels: Add buttons to your email newsletter that take users directly to your new publication. Post snippets of your articles on social media and encourage your followers to read more.
- Let your readers preview: While your current customers or followers may be your first subscribers, your magazine should also help you grow your audience. Find some way to let new visitors sneak a peak to increase the likelihood they will subscribe.
- Use reader analytics: Get better with each issue you publish with the help of detailed data. Look at how long your readers engage with your content and what articles are most popular. With this data, you can create the magazine your readers most enjoy interacting with. By satisfying your audience’s needs, you’ll increase loyalty and continue to find new readers.
10.Talk to an Industry Expert
Internet content is rapidly growing, and hence, so is competition for the eyes of readers. Now is the time to look beyond a PDF and embrace an interactive online magazine experience that truly garners your audience’s attention.
Nxtbook Media offers two excellent digital publishing solutions you can use for your online magazine. Our nxtbook4 software provides one of the best flipbook publishers for user experience. We also offer the fully responsive PageRaft platform for content creators curating a digital-first experience. We’d love to chat with you more about your digital publishing needs and show you what our software can do. Feel free to schedule a no-obligation demo so you can see just how awesome your digital magazine can be.
For more on how to make your digital content shine with Nxtbook Media, read all the latest from our blog and stay in touch through social media.