The 9 Ultimate Digital Magazine Features

How do your digital magazine features stack up to users’ expectations?

Contrary to what you’ve probably been thinking, the ultimate digital magazine is built in a browser, not an app. That’s why web magazines are skyrocketing to success, because users are quickly figuring out that they’d rather use a web magazine than an app magazine.

Users are already familiar with the web interface, whether it’s Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox or Chrome, they understand basic web navigation. And when you add familiar print elements like a table of contents and consistent navigation, users can adopt web magazines easily.

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And the bonus for you as the publisher is that all the most important features that users have told us they want in a magazine, are easier and cheaper to deploy in a web edition.

What users don’t want is an app edition with an unfamiliar interface that they need to learn differently for every digital magazine they subscribe to. I think that’s the real reason why so many magazine apps haven’t taken off (that and the PDF replica edition). For as many kudos as Wired got when they launched their magazine app, full of bells and whistles, the reaction from users was unfortunately, “wow, this is way too complicated.”

The web magazine is familiar, basic, and an easy transition from print. And it stops you from developing the kinds of bells and whistles an app encourages, but customers are confused by.

In a study we ran last year, we asked users to tell us what were their “most important” features were in a digital magazine, both app and web. We asked them to list each of the features below on a scale of 1-5. Below are the responses for those who chose “very important” for the below items:

  • 71.03% say readable text is a “very important” feature of a digital magazine
  • 50.28% said scrollable text also a “very important” feature
  • 21.15% think a back archive of issues is “very important”
  • 21.07% want the ability to copy and paste content
  • 20.43% want links to external websites
  • 17.32% want to be able to bookmark content
  • 15.16% want “vertical swipe” in their magazines
  • 14.92% listed having a companion print magazine as “very important”
  • 11.49% said they want embedded video

Let’s tackle each of these features one by one, and how they exist in the app and web world.

Readable text – If your digital magazine app is a PDF, you’re disqualified unless you also have an app edition with text that doesn’t need to be pinched and zoomed to be read. For many, this includes the option to change the size of the text in magazine apps.

If you have a web edition, the font will always be as readable as the rest of your web pages, making this most-wanted feature a breeze.

Scrollable text – The simple replica and replica plus app editions do not have scrollable text, they have basic added functionality beyond a printed magazine. In most editions of digital magazine apps that have scrollable text, the text flows horizontally so the reader simply reads your entire magazine horizontally from newly flowed page to newly flowed page as she would a print magazine. It can also be scrolled vertically, a feature listed below where 15.1% said it was “very important.” Together, scrollable text and vertical scroll come to 65.44% of users who think some version of scrollable text is “very important.”

In the web edition, all text is scrollable, just like a webpage, so there is no added cost or effort to offer this feature like there is in an app.

Back archive of issues – We’re happy this landed in the #3 spot, because we know through testing that having a library of archived issues paired with your web magazine will increase revenue and profits. Anytime you can recycle content into a new product, you’re generating profits, and when they’re digital and don’t have any distribution costs, even better. Every month, or week, or however often you update, your  web magazine library will get updated with the newest content. Once your back archives and articles are uploaded, they don’t need to be updated, and you can generate additional revenue from this platform without added effort.

This principle can also be used in your digital magazine apps, and we recommend you always offer an archive for any digital subscription, however the cost and effort to turn your archives into a full formatted digital magazine is considerably more costly than a web edition, which can be as simple as copying and pasting copy into already-formatted pages.

Copy & paste – Users clearly want to be able to share the content they receive in their digital editions. And while copying and pasting is second nature in a web edition, very few magazine apps have this feature. Millennials especially will expect your digital magazine to act like the content on your website. They want to save parts for later and share it on social networks (if it’s also alive on your website.)

Links – Both internal and external links are valuable. Think about it, with internal links you can send traffic from your magazine app to your web edition, and with external links, you send people to your advertisers. According to a recent study, millennials are online spending 17.8 hours a day with different types of media (and yes, clicking on ads, spending $2,000 annually on e-commerce despite having lower incomes than older adults. If there’s an ad for a perfume, your millennial readers will expect that they can tap and be led to some kind of landing page for the product. Encourage your advertisers to create these landing pages if they aren’t already. And besides, what’s more trackable, a printed URL on a page, or an active hyperlink? 

Bookmarking – Forbes has a particularly fun feature within their magazine app which is the clipping tool. You simply use two fingers to tap on an image or article, and you get a frame that you can move to fit around anything you want to keep or share. Besides the fact that it’s fun and useful, in taking sharing of content to another level, Forbes has increased the likelihood of readers helping their content to go viral, and to promote new subscriptions with their magazine app.

Of course everyone already knows how to bookmark and screenshot content on their desktop and mobile devices, so again the web edition wins here because it requires to additional functionality or learning to use.

Vertical swipe –Then there’s the vertical reflow, also known as vertical swipe. In this version, the content in each article, if it doesn’t fit on one page, flows downward, and is accessed by swiping up.  The reader swipes horizontally to navigate from article to article, and vertically to read articles longer than one tablet-sized page. Note that when you reach the bottom of a vertically swiped page, you don’t have to scroll back to the top to swipe horizontally to the next article. That can be done from anywhere within the long vertical page. Magic!

In the web edition, content isn’t swiped, however the functionality to read an article and view the next article is the same as users are familiar with on most websites, and there is always a table of contents on the right-hand side to read any article they desire.

Companion print magazine – If you’re a digital-only magazine, you’re in luck because only 14.92% of survey participants think it’s important that you also have a print edition to go with your digital content.

Embedded video – We were a little surprised this ranked so low, however if you’re in a niche like cooking, crafts, or fitness, we highly recommend it. Most consumers aren’t used to seeing video in digital magazines yet, so it might take a few more years before they see it enough to value it.

Another fun stat from the survey was that multiplatform and digital-only consumers were 1.09 times more likely to be male, while print only consumers were 1.76 times more likely to be female. Also, we see a trend where digital-only consumers are becoming older and wealthier over time. Year over year we saw a 20% increase in age for the average reader which was 41 years old, and a 15% increase in income, landing them in the $79k household income bracket.

If you’re thinking about adding a web magazine to your media mix, we can help you plan, develop and manage the process based on our extensive experience with subscription websites and multiplatform publishing. Please schedule a time to chat with us.


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