Let’s Clarify: What Is a Digital Magazine?

What is a digital magazine really? Is it clickable, scrollable, web-accessible, or all the above?

What is a digital magazine, what are digital magazines?

Magazines are designed to be read from front to back. They have covers and a table of contents. Magazines are arranged in a series of articles. Portals are not meant to be read from front to back, and are in no way linear. Users may begin on an article they found through search and hyperlink their way across the site in a matter of seconds. There is no true table of contents, although there is arrangement in the form of categories, topic pages, and related articles.

So what is a digital magazine? It’s a bit of a hybrid, and it’s not necessarily just an online magazine, although it could be!


Digital magazines and their many mobile formats

The Alliance for Audited Media defines a digital edition as distribution of a magazine’s content via electronic means. The digital edition must maintain the same identity of the host publication by maintaining the same brand characteristics. Mequoda agrees with this definition.

When a magazine goes digital and becomes an app, it becomes alive. And that’s scary for some publishers. Suddenly, ads become more valuable to advertisers because they can be clicked. Content becomes more rich because it can also be hyperlinked to references and authors on the web. Live content can be embedded into a magazine so the editorial content doesn’t stop at the final publish date.

And if you’re not ready for that kind of transition or development project, then your magazine has suddenly become ancient.

Many publishers in this situation, hurrying to keep up, launch digital replica editions. These editions are simple digital mockups that subscribers can read and download onto their mobile devices, in many cases they are PDFs. In our last survey of digital magazine readers, this was the least desired format to read a digital magazine because their most desired feature is scrollable text, whereas most replica editions require readers to pinch and zoom in order to read the text.

The most user-friendly digital magazine formats for app stores include a replica plus and reflow plus. However, we think magazine subscription websites are where you can truly generate the most profit.

Digital magazine subscription websites

A digital magazine may also come in another shape and size: a web magazine library. This is the digital magazine platform that we recommend, and the one that the publishers we work with are seeing the most revenue from.

In this format, a web magazine and its library are sold as a subscription. It provides access to issues of the magazine online in an HTML format. I Like Crochet was, what we believe, the first magazine subscription website using this format, and we have also written about other impressive web magazine libraries we like including the all-new Food Gardening Network. All require registration for full access to the site; all offer their magazine content online; and content is organized by issue.

Many people refer to any website that carries a legacy magazine brand and magazine content as a web magazine library; however, if the content is not organized in a magazine format and issues cannot be viewed or downloaded, it doesn’t meet our basic criteria of being a best-practice web magazine library or subscription website.

As you may read in our description of the perfect digital magazine website, we think every publisher should offer their magazine in print, mobile, web, and library formats.

What is a digital magazine to you?

The combination of a magazine’s attributes make it desirable and “survivable” for some part of the reading population and that, paper or tablet, the essential attributes of a magazine will not change.

Consumers who love magazines are not going to let publishers change the characteristics of a magazine that have made the medium so successful over the years. However, there’s always room for improvement in format and accessibility.

What do you consider a digital magazine?


    Thank you Bentley.

    This is yet another area where self-fulfilling prophecies are holding digital magazines back. Publishers have to count a subscription only once and print advertising is still the biggest slice of their revenue so they count the sub there and the digital count languishes, ensuring the print revenues stay larger. Similar to how many publishers create cheap replica PDFs, find the reader engagement is low, and decide readers don’t like digital replicas so they never invest in what would actually create an engaging experience for readers.

    It doesn’t need to be this way and getting recognition of this vicious circle is one piece of helping the industry move forward.

    Bentley N.

    One should not forget that it’s possible to format a PDF magazine specifically for a particular device, just as a printed page is formatted to be read in either a portrait or landscape format depending on the shape of a book. Scrollable text is one answer to the replica problem, but good design should always follow function.


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