Digital Magazine Publishing

How to Publish a Magazine on the Platforms Readers Want

Since the printing press was invented, the best way to deliver readable content was always on the page. Until the advent of the web, consumers hadn’t even considered other ways to digest content beyond books, magazines and newsletters printed in a linear, bounded fashion.

But then the web arrived on personal computers, and then it arrived

You won’t learn how to publish a magazine that sells by spending all of your time in the newsstands

Tens of centuries ago, there lived a philosopher named Laozi (or Lao Tzu), believed to be the founder of Taoism, and in many religions, considered a god or deity.

Those who follow his teachings practice humility in leadership in learning, and his teachings are quoted in business management almost as much as Peter Drucker. In hierarchy, he was a big believer and teacher of letting go and letting the people lead the way.

“Go to the people,” he is quoted as saying. “Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves.'”


How to publish a magazine by following the people

Since the printing press was invented, the best way to deliver readable content was always on the page. Until the advent of the web, consumers hadn’t even considered other ways to digest content beyond books, magazines and newsletters printed in a linear, bounded fashion.

But then the web arrived on personal computers, and then it arrived on mobile phones, and then on smartphones, in email, and through tablet devices.

Now, any one person has a multitude of choices when it comes to how they consume content. We can guess that nearly if not 100% of people who use the web daily also consume some kind of editorial content daily as well, either through news portals or other content portals. However they’re also using the desktops and mobile devices to read digital magazine apps and web magazines.

In our most recent Digital Magazine Market Study, we found almost 40% of those surveyed reported having read one or more digital magazine issues in the past 30 days. Those same people said they read 2.37 digital magazine issues in the prior 30 days. In terms of print, almost 70% said they read one or more print magazine issues in the prior 30 days. Those same people reported having read an average of 2.91 print magazine issues in the prior 30 days. Based on our data from the report, digital magazine consumption has now reached around 43% of print magazine consumption and is climbing rapidly.

And that doesn’t even include the many other platforms that magazine publishers spread their brand across, including podcasts and video learning series.

How to publish a magazine step #1: Decide which formats you’ll start with.

The very first thing a budding digital publisher must do is decide on the format of the magazine. Are you in print? Will you be? Will you launch a digital magazine app? A web magazine? All three, as we recommend?

If an app, will the magazine be a simple replica? A replica-plus? You might also choose to reflow your print content for maximum readability. That means redesigning each page in a vertical format, so that long articles flow into bottomless pages and the reader swipes vertically to access the content.

We recommend publishing in print, as a digital magazine app, and as a web magazine, for three entirely different revenue streams that attract three different types of readers (and many that overlap). Consumers tell us that they get excited about extra information and content that they can’t get in the print product. That’s why we recommend launching your digital magazine app as a reflow. If you just upload PDFs of your print pages, you’re not taking advantage of the technology … why bother?

How to publish a magazine step #2: Determine which media you’ll include.

Adding interactive elements to your digital magazine is essential. And the thing consumers love most about tablets is video. This may sound daunting, but don’t assume this is out of your reach. Existing DVD or downloadable video content can be repurposed. You can start producing video content of your own, or at least dip your toes in the water by reaching out to bloggers and others in your niche who might have videos they’d be willing to share with you.

One of our clients began just that way, and soon found that demand outpaced the supply of existing video content. That gave them the motivation and confidence in the market to start creating their own videos. In addition to video, you could at least deliver photo galleries of images that didn’t make it into the print product, or behind-the-scenes shots or similar material.

Finally, you should be prepared to have at least one bonus article, with interactive elements, in every digital issue to enhance value.

How to publish a magazine step #3: Say yes to a web magazine. 

Two words: Subscription website. If you don’t have one, create one. Mequoda clients use our comprehensive premium subscription management program to launch a premium subscription website as part of their product lineup.

There are many subscription websites that magazine publishers launch with, but we suggest starting with a web magazine through a magazine subscription website associated with your print or digital products. It allows you to sell access to an HTML edition of your magazine that is viewable on any device, desktop or mobile, instead of relying on Apple and other newsstands – which in turn means you get to keep the cut you’d have to give those third parties.

You can also offer back-issues with a magazine subscription website, which gives you an added bullet point to your feature list of benefits – an archive of back issues dating back to the very first one!

How to publish a magazine step #4: Decide on how you’ll price your magazine.

For publishers who decide to skip or ditch print and go right to digital sales, this is the magazine pricing formula we suggest based on the success of our clients who use it:

  • Magazine digital magazine app at $19.95
  • Magazine digital web magazine at $29.95
  • Magazine digital web magazine  + Magazine library at $34.95

More than half of sales are for the highest priced product – $15 more than the lowest priced product. The second highest sale price point is the middle price. Few consumers bother with the cheapest product!

Having that premium subscription website where you can offer the web magazine with an archive, as mentioned in step #3, means you can bundle your products  in a way that drives the average sale price from $20 closer to $35. And who among us would sneeze at that kind of increase? What’s more, because the average customer stays with you for about three years, you’ll be getting $105 from that customer instead of $60 over that lifetime.

If you have a legacy print magazine, you can use try this magazine pricing strategy, which was tested by The Economist, where 16% ended up buying the website edition, nobody bought the print edition, and a whopping 84% bought the website and print combo. The $66 price jump on a combo that costs the publisher very little extra was a major win for the Economist.

  • $59 – Web magazine
  • $125 – Print magazine only
  • $125 – Web magazine and print magazine

How to publish a magazine step #5: Determine your marketing strategy.

Establish a schedule to integrate digital magazine promotions into daily, weekly and spotlight emails that you send out to email subscribers from your portal. (You do have a portal, don’t you? Right there associated with that premium subscription website you should also have, right?)

How to publish a magazine step #6: Develop your plan of attack.

In planning to launch a digital magazine or a digital edition of your magazine, there are many factors to take into consideration. We’ve created a series of strategic planning frameworks as a tool in developing and communicating business plans within a multiplatform publishing organization.

The entire suite of these strategic planning frameworks (SPFs) is beyond the scope of this article. It’s also worth noting that just like a successful multiplatform publishing business, these tools do not operate in their separate silos but are most effective when they are used in a planned, coordinated way.

Nonetheless, the Multiplatform Magazine SPF can be used as a standalone tool. You may find there are additional factors specific to your publication or operation, but these will provide a basic data set for your planning and modeling. See the SPF, which you can copy and fill out right now.

How to publish a magazine step #7: Meet with an advisor. 

Hiring a modern magazine publishing consultant is the next logical step. Choosing the right one (and only one!) is an important decision. So we’ve put together a checklist to outline what a magazine publishing consultant should be doing for you. We expect a lot out of these consultants, just like we expect a lot of ourselves. See the checklist now.

You have to keep in mind hiring a consultant that is interdisciplinary in their approach and willing to do more than simply advise your efforts. They should be working for you, with you, and helping set up a system that will last.

Are you ready to publish your first (or second, or third) magazine? Let me know how Mequoda can help.


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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