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The Perfect Digital Magazine Template

Five magazine characteristics define the perfect digital magazine template for 2014

Some of the most striking magazine publishing news in 2013 was the revival of print magazines: Print Newsweek is back from the dead, and traditionally online publications have suddenly begun launching print magazines, contradicting prognostications in recent years that print is a dying breed.

It may still be, but all this does prove one point to us at Mequoda: Magazines themselves are not, as was also predicted before the April 2010 launch of the iPad, becoming dinosaurs. In fact, magazines have already survived radio and television in the contest for consumers’ time and attention. This latest development simply reaffirms their ageless quality.

Meanwhile, digital circulation is definitely on the rise, though clearly not yet on the brink of extinguishing print altogether. Many of the publishers we work with will generate more than 20 percent of their new subscription sales from digital channels in 2014, and expect those numbers to rise by another 50 percent in 2015.

And according to the most recent data from AAM (as of Dec. 31, 2013), nine of the top 10 print circulation magazines are averaging 3% of their total circulation from digital, a number that continues to creep up. Note: Game Informer, at 63%, is an anomaly and therefore excluded from that calculation.

And of the top 249 magazines by print circulation, again excluding Game Informer, digital circulation averages 5.8%.

In an earlier post, Don had identified several characteristics of magazines that he believes must be recognized in the digital magazine era. Given the newly-proven resilience of the medium, it behooves us to acknowledge the importance of these characteristics and identify how they must be translated into the perfect digital magazine template for 2014.

Don noted that the combination of a magazine’s attributes make it desirable and “survivable” for some part of the reading population, and that paper or tablet, the essential attributes of a magazine will not change. Consumers who love magazines are not going to let publishers change the characteristics of a magazine that have made the medium so successful over the years.

As your publication is transformed from print to tablet, make certain it doesn’t lose even one of these essential attributes, which define the user experience and make magazines unique and ageless.

Discover digital publishing tips for creating digital magazines in a tablet magazine publishing world when you download our FREE Digital Magazine Publishing handbook today.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #1:

Magazines are linear and finite. Don’t encourage your readers to wander.

Magazines are designed to be read from front to back. They have covers and a table of contents. Magazines are arranged in a series of articles. Compare that with other media, where the articles are arranged with taxonomies and hyperlinks, and are not linear.

Hyperlinking is not linear. Any medium that enables or encourages the reader to bounce around among hundreds or thousands of articles is not a linear medium. What’s more, humans desire closure, which magazines provide. A reader can say “I have read the April issue of Vanity Fair. I finished it on Sunday.”

No one has ever said she has finished the Vanity Fair website. And no one ever will finish it.

The lesson: Keep your readers inside your magazine as much as possible! While the technology allows hyperlinking to the Internet, you risk killing the linear characteristic of the magazine, and you won’t have a magazine anymore.

Instead, use that tempting technology to link to the jumps of your articles, or, at most, to related content on your website that pops up right in the screen the reader is on, as Forbes does with its “window shade” feature. As soon as that related content is consumed, the reader can pull down the “shade” easily and continue on his linear path.

Some publishers will find that they really do need to send readers to the Internet, such as a regional magazine whose mission includes publicizing events that have websites with more information. Still, keep in mind that the main goal is to deliver a product that can be completed in 30 to 90 minutes for the average happy reader.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #2:

Magazines are periodic. Use the technology to provide more frequent periodic content.

Weekly, monthly or quarterly, magazines are periodic, based on how often the user wants to consume content, and how often the content is needed and changing.

Traditionally, the printing and postal system pushed magazine publishers to lower frequency. When publishers complete the switch from print to digital, we’ll pay greater attention to the natural organic frequency of magazines, rather than the economic frequency that has been imposed by physical, print delivery.

As we often write, publishing daily content is a Mequoda Best Practice. And publishers can at least shoot for weekly instead of monthly! It keeps readers more engaged with both the editorial content and advertisements in the medium, and more inclined to buy more affiliated publications and products. Overall, customer satisfaction and subscriber retention rates will increase.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #3:

Magazines are cohesive. Maintain the quality of curation for your digital product.

Part of the appeal of a magazine is that it’s been edited and curated. Its editors have culled out the most interesting and most relevant content for the reader.

The content does not comprise an isolated collection of articles or stories. Instead, the editorial content is connected and cohesive. Frequently there’s an introductory letter from the editor that creates context for the content that follows, as our client, Bayou City, does in its digital magazine.

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Discover digital publishing tips for creating digital magazines in a tablet magazine publishing world when you download our FREE Digital Magazine Publishing handbook today.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #4:

Magazines are collectible. Digitize your back issues yesterday.

People like to own magazines. As a child, Don notes, he lived in a household that collected and displayed every issue of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines. And as Steve Jobs noted, while there’s a small group of consumers that wants to own television shows, most want to rent.

But many magazine subscribers collect their back issues. For some specialty magazines such as Biblical Archaeology Review and Interweave Knits, as many as 70-80 percent of subscribers keep their back issues for future reference. In fact, having a rich archive of back issues is a huge revenue stream for clients like Biblical Archaeology Review. So make your back issues available right in your app – including special issues, which is another Mequoda Best Practice.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #5:

Print magazines are not easily searchable. Make sure your digital content is.

Collecting print magazines had one frustrating limitation: The difficulty in finding older content in them. A magazine delivered on a digital platform must be searchable.

Whether he previously read an article in Sunset and is now actively planning a Hawaii vacation, or previously read an article in Consumer Reports and is now preparing to buy a kitchen appliance, the user wants to be able to revisit and find specific information.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #6:

Print magazines deliver four-color, saturated content. You should publish on any digital platform that delivers the same.

In the future, magazines will not be limited by platform. Readers will expect to be able to access the content of your magazine on any platform that delivers four-color-saturated, editorial content. Currently, that means desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Publishers are wisely making make their magazines available on the Apple iPad, the Samsung Galaxy Tablet, Kindle Fire and all other lightweight, portable, touchscreen, tablet-sized, personal computers, regardless of operating system.

Users will expect their subscription content to be available to them everywhere. Publishers should try not to risk disappointing them by making exclusive platform alliances.

Of course, the niche publishers we serve may have to start slowly, beginning with the iPad, and relying on a companion magazine subscription website (organized by topic and issue) to fill in the gaps of universally-accessed content. Later, as digital magazine demand grows, such publishers can expand their app editions based on market share in their niche.

What do you think are the essential elements of the perfect magazine template?

You may disagree with me, and argue that a digital magazine must be defined by other attributes and characteristics than have traditionally been the norm. Please add to the discussion of “the perfect digital magazine template” in the comment below.

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Originally published in 2010 and updated every year.

 

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6 Responses to “The Perfect Digital Magazine Template”

  1. Dan Says:

    So right now we offer our customers a digital subscription to the website. If they are print subscribers, there is a hefty discount to the website. If they are not print subscribers, the digital subscription is about the same as the print subscription.

    In the digital subscription, they get an html table of contents and pdfs of all of the articles in the current issue. Because the articles are extremely visual, they are hard to translate to html (iPad will help a lot with this).

    As part of the ‘digital subscription’ our readers get extra stuff, such as extended how-to video series and total access to the 30-year archive.

    Are you saying that we should have an iPad (or whatever) subscription– the digital magazine– a print subscription, AND a ‘reference website’ subscription, with the back issues, videos, and other stuff?

  2. Don Says:

    Hi Dan:

    It depends on how much bonus content you offer.

    The starting point is that a user expects to find a magazine at a magazine website… one they can download and read for 60 minutes or more. The HTML archive is a plus for searching for older articles… like an article index based on a full search text that can answer a question or lead them to the correct issue download.

    The CR website is much closer to the Annual Byers Guide than to a back issue archive in both its design and usage. Most magazines don’t have a companion guide book under the brand and thus do merit a reference website… they just need a magazine website and, of course a hub or portal for audience development.

    Hope that helps,

    Don

  3. nayyer rubab Says:

    the conventional and traditional style of magazine is a real pleasure to have BUT digital magazine is the requirement of time. i am a researcher and writer and i can store thousands of magazines and books in my hard disc ( my computer and an external). its easy to carry and very easy to consult
    digital form of magazine and books speed up the research work and reduce the working time a lot.
    i love hard bound books and magazines , at my place and in my office shelves are full but i have more books and movies on my computer.
    i am a senior Creative Manager in a satellite HUM TV network. Karachi Pakistan

  4. Marcus Says:

    While I agree that the linear component of a digital magazine is one of its “reasons for being,” I’m not certain that all hyperlinks are bad. First off, hyperlinks can do far more than leave the magazine and go somewhere else… they can open a new window or tab without exiting the digital magazine.

    Perhaps more important, without hyperlinks, what would digital magazine advertisers be buying?

    Good article!

    Marcus Grimm
    Marketing Director
    Nxtbook Media

  5. They Want to Know What You’re Thinking! | Nxtblog Says:

    [...] months ago the kind folks at Mequoda wrote a thoughtful post about what the perfect digital magazine is and isn’t. I, and others, chimed in with some comments. In preparation for next month’s Mequoda Summit, [...]

  6. Martin Holmes Says:

    I guess with the new gadgets that are on the market today a tide of change is for certain, many people read books and news online so why not magazines. I think that things will change pretty quick for readers and an option to switch to an newer way of reading a magazine is an excellent thing.

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