Knowing how to start an online magazine requires first understanding the differences between an online magazine and the dozens of other publishing models available to you.
These differences range from the obvious – a comparison with print products, for instance, is pretty straightforward – to the more nuanced: say, discerning an online magazine from a digital magazine. What could possibly separate the two other than terminology?
As it turns out, plenty. And there’s one crucial contrast that we’ll focus on here:
An online magazine, also referred to as a web magazine, is an HTML-prepped periodical built using responsive design, making it easily readable on a desktop, tablet or mobile phone’s browser. It’s often accessed as a subscription or print + digital combo. It’s self-contained, consumed in larger chunks for longer periods of time, and ideally includes a trove of archival content.
An online magazine is just one type of digital magazine.
If you’re still reading this, you have probably concluded an online magazine model is better suited to your publication, and you’re looking for help on how to start an online magazine.
But if you’re still unsure as to whether your content fits the mold of an online magazine or a digital magazine app (or, for that matter, an electronic newsletter, et al.), here’s a good litmus test:
Will people subscribe to your online magazine based on the quantity and quality of your content?
More to the point, will they actually sit down to read it from front to back?
In other words, will it be “appointment” or “event” reading, as opposed to intermittent check-ins for news updates and headlines?
Did you answer “yes” to all three of those questions? If so, let’s explore how to make it happen.
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How to Start an Online Magazine: Step 1
First things first: Find your niche.
You’re going to have a tough time starting a national news magazine these days, considering there are scores of national news magazines already out there – some of which are struggling to adapt to the new publishing paradigm.
Instead, aim for a more specialized area of interest. A niche. A hobby. A historical subject. A region. What are you an expert in? Does it match up with a void in the marketplace – or, even if not, can you do it better than the few publications out there? Can you generate enough content to sustain interest? It’s never been a better time to be a niche publisher.
Check out our case study on Prime Publishing’s I Like Crochet. It doesn’t get any more niche – or inspiringly successful – than that!
How to Start an Online Magazine: Step 2
Decide how you’re going to monetize.
Yes, your revenue will likely depend largely on subscriptions, but you have a ton of options when it comes to magazine subscription website business models. And once you select your plan of attack, you have another decision to make: how to choose the best subscription pricing strategy.
Will you bundle products? Will you offer tiers and contrast pricing? Will you lock readers in or let them roam a bit?
And, of course, might you make a push for ads, as well?
How to Start an Online Magazine: Step 3
Build your infrastructure and plan out how your content will take shape.
How do you envision your online magazine? Do you have a design in mind? More importantly, are you ready to commit to a content management system (CMS) that will give life to your online magazine and help manage your editorial workflow?
Mequoda members use our Haven WordPress CXMS, which integrates everything from audience development to e-commerce to subscription management, along with the standard publishing software, of course.
If you have a lot of content – or plan to – you’ll need a strong foundation to support it.
How to Start an Online Magazine: Step 4
Use content you have, or start creating content.
Arguably your greatest asset in charting out a course for your online magazine is your capacity to host an online magazine library.
If you’ve been in the print business for a while, or even if you’ve been blogging or distributing newsletters, you must capitalize on that existing content and not let it go to waste.
Remember: If you’re a legacy publisher with existing content, you don’t have to start from scratch with an online magazine!
Update, reformat, standardize, and incorporate your evergreen articles and posts into an HTML online magazine library.
Call a couple of colleagues or make a hire, because this step is going to take considerable elbow grease. The good news? It will end up generating significant revenue once all of that up-front work is done.
How to Start an Online Magazine: Step 5
Determine how you’re going to develop an audience.
Yes, this means marketing starts now. The most successful new online magazines are those that are using the platform to serve an audience that they are already reaching through some other medium.
How do you do this? Again, you have a lot of options: email and freemiums are a must in attracting visitors you can convert into subscribers. So, too, is social media. Finding a good press release service is key, as well.
Do you now have a better grasp of how to start an online magazine? Are you a legacy publisher simply looking to reach into the digital realm? If so, reach out and schedule a call and learn how we can increase your online audience, revenue, and profits.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.