Digital Magazine Publishing

9 Desired Digital Magazine Features Explain Why Apps Are Out and Web Editions Are In

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.

Not convinced? Below we’re going to talk about the most important digital magazine features you should be offering, and how apps fail to deliver where web magazines do quite well.

Why Web Magazines Defeated Magazine Apps in the Great Digital Magazine War

It’s simple enough, really. 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.

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, which nobody wants). 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.

For examples of web magazines, look at Food Gardening Magazine, Yankee Magazine, and I Like Crochet.

In a study we ran a few years ago, we asked users to tell us what 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% said 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
  • 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.

9 Digital Magazine Features Users Want Most

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. It honestly feels a little ancient at this point to consider app editions any type of primary edition because web editions just work so much better on any device and can be easily programmed to increase text size.

Scrollable text – Another shortcoming of many apps is that they did/do not have scrollable text, they really 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 a newly flowed page to the next page as she would a print magazine. It can also be scrolled vertically, a feature 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.

And yes, this principle can also be used in your digital magazine apps, however, the cost and effort to turn your archives into a fully 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 as 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.)

Clickable Links – Both internal and external links are valuable. 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 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.

Bookmarking – In apps, this was a rare find, but with web magazines, 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 no additional functionality or learning to use.

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’ve seen 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.


Beyond Function

Now the list you’re looking at above is basic functionality. It shows how people want to interface with a digital magazine and how they expect it to behave. Beyond that, we believe there are other important digital magazine products and features that any good modern web magazine can include, that would be even more difficult for app magazines to achieve.

Free SEO content: Job one is attracting organic traffic from search and social media sources plus referring traffic from other related websites. This section of the magazine website accounts for more than 80% of all website arrivals from organic sources and is a key driver in building a loyal base of free email subscribers.

Registration Incentives: Specially-selected free guides that may be available downloadable PDFs and/or native HTML for registered members, are responsible for dramatically increasing email capture rates, which measure the process of turning website visitors into free email subscribers.

Premium Content Previews: These content marketing efforts feature snippets of premium content and are designed to engage premium members by encouraging them to use their premium membership. They’re also meant to engage free subscribers encouraging them to upgrade to the premium membership.

For example, both free and premium members might receive three previews per week which get open rates that are consistently north of 60% for premium members, and 30% for free subscribers. These derivative minimum information units are aligned with special collections, and individual magazine issues to which free subscribers have limited access, and premium subscribers have unlimited access.

Carefully Curated Collections: Online editors and content marketing specialists use keyword mapping and Google keyword research to create and update thematic collections of content that detail the most popular content available and make it available as a linear collection that can be read as if it were a book or magazine. This linear reading experience emulates how readers have engaged with magazine content over the decades.

Magazine Archive: As the #3 most-desired feature in the list above, we believe it’s a must-have. The magazine archive begins with the most current issue and again offers the reader a familiar linear experience with a persistent table of contents and navigation that allows the reader to easily move forward and back from article to article in a given issue. Users can also search on keyword terms to find information about topics that don’t rise to the level of popularity that would cause the editors to spin out a new carefully curated collection.

Conversion Architecture: The magazine website design offers users a contextual experience with dynamic content and offer management so that unknown visitors, print-only subscribers, registered users, and all-access members all get unique treatment. Conversion architecture is optimized around both free and premium offers, depending on user state and current website usage.

Companion Newsletters: Both registered users and premium members are offered numerous content-driven companion email newsletters depending upon their member status and personal preferences.

If you’re thinking about adding a web magazine to your media mix, let us know what other questions you have in the comments below.


By Don Nicholas

Founder & Executive Publisher

Don Nicholas serves as Executive Publisher for Food Gardening Network and GreenPrints. He is responsible for all creative, technical, and financial aspects of these multiplatform brands. As senior member of the editorial team, he provides structural guidance, sets standards, and coordinates activities with the technology and business teams. Don is an active gardener whose favorite crops include tomatoes, basil, blueberries, and corn. He and his wife Gail live and work in southern Massachusetts surrounded by forests, family farms, cranberry bogs, and nearby beaches. Don is also the Founder of Mequoda Systems, LLC, which operates and supports numerous online communities including I Like Crochet, I Like Knitting, and We Like Sewing.

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