Should You Publish a Magazine in Print? Digital? Or Both?

Are you thinking of starting to publish a magazine in print? First, consider your options.

Do you publish a magazine, or are you considering publishing one based on a large niche portal you are currently running?

At a recent networking event amongst publishers, the owner of a publication for teen health asked a Mequoda team member if it was worth launching a print magazine to go with her ad-driven online presence. She already had other print publications, but this niche, teen health, geared towards a younger generation—would it be too passe’?

The short answer is that we’ve seen it work, but testing is worth the investment. One of our clients launched a new print magazine from their popular online portal last year and is now generating thousands of new subscribers every month.


But if you’re launching print, launch with digital editions, too. Much like ham radio, which uses towers that repeat your signal so that it travels further, you can use multiple magazine publishing platforms to get your content across to a variety of consumers.

Where most publishers flub, is in their digital editions. People still love print, they like the smell of it, they enjoy collecting and displaying print copies, and they like to get physical mail. None of that has really gone away in the last couple decades, and in fact in the year of “fake news” we are seeing consumers appreciate traditional media and sources more than ever.

But what has changed, and for the better, is that people are willing to pay more for a multiplatform magazine subscription that includes a digital edition. Unfortunately, the initial reaction to digital magazines was poor, because so many publishers jumped on the digital magazine boat by publishing PDF replica editions (as the tweens would say, “eeeeew.”) Instead, they could have been launching robust reflow editions and native web magazines.

If you’re considering adding to your free content portal business model by creating a premium or free magazine edition for the purpose of attracting more advertisers or more subscription revenue, we will often suggest launching both print and digital.

To be clear, a digital magazine, can reside on any digital electronic device, whether it’s a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone. It could be an app, but it doesn’t have to be. That makes the term “digital magazine” a catchall phrase with several different, more specific terms underneath it.

Reflow magazine apps – the best kind of magazine app

The first kind of digital magazine edition we suggest is the reflow app edition, which lives mostly in app stores, but can also be sold directly through your website and can be downloaded to a device.

The benefits of reflow app editions:

Having an app version of your magazine is a basic advantage, given the light-speed adoption of mobile devices by the reading public. The most obvious benefit is, of course, readability. Increasing access to your content is always a good idea, and by definition, a reflowed app allows the content to “flow” horizontally or vertically so the reader simply reads your entire magazine from newly-flowed page to newly-flowed page as they would a print magazine.

A reflow is also an excellent use of the technology digital natives and millennials seem to want in digital products. Users accustomed to digital media become impatient with low-tech PDF replicas that need to be pinched and zoomed to be read on a mobile device.

Finally, this magazine app edition uses technology to enhance the reading experience with video, additional popup content, audio and more. That means more engaged readers, happier advertisers and a more profitable magazine.

Native web magazines – the best kind of digital magazine all around

The second digital magazine edition we prefer and recommend is the native web edition, which is built in HTML and can be read on any screen size without needing to download anything. When someone asks us about launching a print edition, our instinct is to talk about a web magazine first, because it’s so pliable and multifunctional. And it makes a darn-good upsell to a print magazine, which is making subscription publishers a lot more money these days.

The benefits of native web magazines:

The experience a user has when they enter a native web magazine is not unlike a tablet application, except it’s better and also less expensive for the publisher to maintain because any in-house web developer can update it.

Additionally, we’ve seen ad-driven publishers have great success landing big advertisers because of the benefits that web magazines provide: detailed analytics, more visibility for ads, and the ability to put sponsored content in front of the paywall which offers them full exposure to your audience.

Typically you will spend more up front to digitize at least a decade’s worth of magazines upon launch, but then you can begin to upsell subscribers to your magazine archive, which is typically worth $5-$10 more per subscription in our experience.

Finally, one of the biggest benefits of native web magazines is that it can be viewed on any device. It doesn’t matter if you own an iPad or an Android, or if you prefer to browse on your laptop. The magazine responds uniquely to each screen with a persistent navigation that makes you feel like there is a beginning, middle and end while you are reading, just like a printed magazine.

So let’s get back to publishing a magazine in print.

Should you launch a print magazine? The answer will always be “it depends.” Do you have a large audience? Have you surveyed your existing readers and asked if they would subscribe? Have you asked how much they would pay for a subscription? If you are completely ad-driven, like the aforementioned teen health magazine, do you have the distribution system in place to get your magazine in the offices of pediatricians and guidance counselors? There is a lot of overhead in the print world, so do you have the funds to cover years 1-3 in the red?

Print is a great avenue to research, and even worth testing a single issue to see the response. But the digital world offers an array of revenue models for online magazines, which in turn have their own subsets of revenue-generating models. This means revenue can be generated in many ways for digital magazines.

If you’re thinking about expanding your legacy magazine business, I’d love to chat about the process of evaluating each magazine media revenue generation systems that make sense for your organization. I’d also be happy to describe the process we developed for planning, developing, and optimizing a fully integrated, multiplatform niche media business.


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