Creating digital magazines with a future-proof publishing strategy has never been harder
“I simply don’t understand the opportunity,” one veteran magazine publisher told me at a recent industry 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.”
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Now, I do understand my 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.
I do hesitate to prescribe free business advice to someone I have just met. In my experience, free consulting advice is often the same bad fit as a free pair of shoes. With that caveat, I’ll share with you now the list of revenue-generating ideas I shared with my colleague after knowing her for less than five minutes:
Four ways to monetize a free digital magazine archive
Brand building: Magazine issues are simply more impressive than 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 worth 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 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 an 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 you can help our colleague by providing her with additional ways to justify creating digital magazines for her legacy brand, please share them below.
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