Creating digital magazines doesn’t come easy to everyone. In fact, it comes easy to nobody. “I simply don’t understand the opportunity,” one veteran magazine publisher said to us once at a conference. “My magazines are sponsor-driven. My issue archive includes hundreds of back issues. I have all these vendors and partners offering to digitize my back issue archive and make it available online. But I don’t have a clue how I make any money if I do it. Near as I can figure, my digital magazine archive is worthless.”
We understand our colleague’s dilemma. Historically, she has sold advertising pages into an issue, published that issue, and sent invoices to her sponsors. The issue is now dead to her. Because her magazine has always been free to readers, she sees no market for back issue sales through retail partners that would generate meaningful revenues.
We do hesitate to prescribe free business advice to someone we’ve just met. In our experience, free consulting advice is often the same bad fit as a free pair of shoes. With that caveat, we’ll share with you now the list of revenue-generating ideas we shared with our colleague after knowing her for less than five minutes:
Four ideas for creating digital magazines with a free digital magazine archive
Brand building: Magazine issues are simply more impressive than standalone HTML content. Because readers associate magazines with high quality, curated content, they will think better of your brand if they understand that the content on your website originated in a magazine format. The cost of putting a few years of back issues on your website is minimal, and the boost it will give your brand is more than enough reason to digitize at least a part of your back issue archive.
Traffic generation: Magazine subscription websites with web magazines generate pages with unique URLs that can be indexed by the search engines if you allow it. With your digital HTML magazine archives online and findable, your editors can create blog posts that reference and link to back issue content in a valuable way. More findable content almost always equals more website traffic. And even though you may not be making extra money on back issue page views, most digital magazine archive-generated arrivals will also produce cross-readership of your current HTML content.
Lead generation: Even if you choose to make your back issue archives completely free in a web magazine library, creating HTML-based magazines can provide a reason for new users to visit your website and register for your email newsletters and free downloads. A visit to a digital magazine back issue is also a great opportunity to let users subscribe to notifications about future releases of issues.
Retail visibility: While it might not be worth creating digital magazine apps for the sole purpose of distributing them freely through Apple, Amazon, and Google, once you have created them it probably makes sense to add retail distribution of current and back issues to your audience development mix. You may choose to make your digital magazines available for free on these platforms or to charge a nominal amount. Either way, you open up a new way for new customers to discover your brand.
If your digital magazine archive is a source of revenue for you, we have an alternative route you may want to consider. Read The Digital Media Library of 2021 is Going to Change Everything for Publishers. Even though we’re well more than halfway through the year, it’s still relevant and there’s still time to jump on this business model as we approach 2022.
Are you creating digital magazines with archives? Why or why not? Is it the cost, or the work that’s holding you back?
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017 and is updated frequently.