The Perfect Digital Magazine Template

Five magazine characteristics of the perfect digital magazine template and what all web magazines will look like by 2028

Some of the most striking magazine publishing news over the past few years has been the revival of print magazines and traditionally online publications, like, have suddenly begun launching print magazines, contradicting prognostications in recent years that print is a dying breed.

It may still be, but all this does prove one point to us at Mequoda: Magazines themselves are not, as was also predicted before the April 2010 launch of the iPad, becoming dinosaurs. In fact, magazines have already survived radio and television in the contest for consumers’ time and attention. This latest development simply reaffirms their ageless quality.

Meanwhile, HTML web editions are rising in popularity, and digital circulation is definitely on the rise, though clearly not yet on the brink of extinguishing print.

Every week we identify the best characteristics of magazines we believe must be recognized in the digital magazine era. Given the newly-proven resilience of the medium, it behooves us to acknowledge the importance of these characteristics and identify how they must be translated into the perfect digital magazine template for 2018.

You might be surprised to hear that these best practices aren’t really focused on tablet applications, and that’s because we think the future is in web magazines. Tablet apps are restricted to their devices, whereas web magazines can be viewed on desktops, tablets and other mobile devices. They can adjust and fit to any screen.

But the combination of a magazine’s attributes make it desirable and “survivable” and the essential attributes of a magazine will not change on the web. 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.

We believe magazines, no matter the medium, share a few important characteristics. As your publication is transformed from print to web and tablet, make certain it doesn’t lose even one of these essential attributes, which define the user experience and make magazines unique and ageless. We’ll use I Like Crochet, our client and also America’s first web magazine. We consider it the perfect web magazine for all the reasons below.

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Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #1:

Magazines are linear and finite. Don’t encourage your readers to wander.

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. Compare that with other media, where the articles are arranged with taxonomies and hyperlinks, and are not linear.

Hyperlinking on a Portal website is not linear. When the readers bounce around among hundreds or thousands of articles, is not a linear medium. What’s more, humans desire closure, which magazines provide. A reader can say “I have read the April issue of Vanity Fair. I finished it on Sunday.”

No one has ever said she has finished the Vanity Fair website. And no one ever will finish it.

Subscription-based web magazines—hosted on a subscription website and viewed on HTML-based web pages—can be linear as long as the conversion architecture maintains consistent navigation that includes an always present table of contents, much like a digital magazine app. 

The lesson: Keep your readers inside your magazine as much as possible! If you begin linking outside the magazine, you risk killing the linear characteristic of the magazine, and you won’t have a magazine anymore.

Below is an example of an article page within the magazine of I Like Crochet. You can see that the table of contents remains consistent on the right-hand side of the page so readers always know which issue they are reading, and what other articles are available to read within the magazine.

The Perfect Digital Magazine Template

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #2:

Magazines are periodic. Use the technology to provide more frequent periodic content.

Monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly magazines are periodic, based on how often the user wants to consume content, and how often the content is needed and changing.

When publishers complete the switch from print to digital, we may see publishers paying more attention to the natural organic frequency of magazines (the frequency at which the subject matter or the market wants it, rather than the economic frequency that has been imposed by physical, print delivery).

For a magazine like I Like Crochet, which is evergreen content, a bi-monthly frequency makes sense.

News magazines can publish weekly editions. It keeps readers more engaged with both the editorial content and advertisements in the medium, and more inclined to buy more affiliated publications and products. Overall, customer satisfaction and subscriber retention rates will increase.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #3:

Magazines are cohesive. Maintain the quality of curation for your digital product.

Part of the appeal of a magazine is that it’s been edited and curated. Its editors have culled out the most interesting and most relevant content for the reader.

The content does not comprise an isolated collection of articles or stories. Instead, the editorial content is connected and cohesive. Frequently there’s an introductory letter from the editor that creates context for the content that follows. In I Like Crochet, there is always a Note from the Editor leading into each issue’s table of contents.

Learn the secrets behind today's most rapidly growing niche publishers. Download a FREE copy of How to Develop a Multiplatform Magazine Business Plan, and discover how large your magazine business could become and how much of an investment will be required to build your business to maturity.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #4:

Magazines are collectible. Digitize your back issues yesterday.

People like to own magazines. As a child, I lived in a household that collected and displayed every issue of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest magazines. And as Steve Jobs noted, while there’s a small group of consumers that want to own television shows, most want to rent. Perhaps you’ve heard of Netflix?

But many magazine subscribers collect their back issues. For some specialty magazines, as many as 70-80 percent of subscribers keep their back issues for future reference. In fact, having a rich archive of back issues is a huge revenue stream for many of our clients.

For a craft magazine like I Like Crochet, offering access to a library of back issues is a substantial benefit. Subscribers enjoy the benefit of a comprehensive archive of past issues which includes thousands of patterns—something a print subscription simply can’t offer.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #5:

Print magazines are not easily searchable. Make sure your digital content is.

Collecting print magazines had one frustrating limitation: The difficulty in finding older content in them necessitating cumbersome and expensive-to-produce back issue indexes. A magazine delivered on a digital platform must be searchable.

Whether he or she previously read an article in Sunset and is now actively planning a Hawaii vacation, or previously read an article in Consumer Reports and is now preparing to buy a kitchen appliance, the user wants to be able to revisit and find specific information.

Perfect digital magazine template characteristic #6:

Print magazines deliver four-color, saturated content. You should publish on any digital platform that delivers the same.

In the future, magazines will not be limited by platform. Readers will expect to be able to access the content of your magazine on any platform that delivers four-color-saturated, editorial content. Currently, that means desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Users will expect their subscription content to be available to them everywhere. Publishers should try not to risk disappointing them by making exclusive platform alliances.

Of course, the niche publishers we serve begin with a magazine subscription website (organized by topic and issue) to fill in the gaps of universally-accessed content. Later, as web magazine demand grows, such publishers can expand their app editions based on market share in their niche.

What do you think are the essential elements of the perfect digital magazine template?

If you think back to Gutenberg and the printing press, magazines are still being produced the same way now as they were then. We have a long way to go. The technology necessary to fully utilize the Internet as a principal marketing and distribution platform is available today for magazine publishers, but it will take a decade or more for the industry to adopt it.

You may disagree with me, and argue that a digital magazine must be defined by other attributes and characteristics than have traditionally been the norm. Please add to the discussion of “the perfect digital magazine template” in the comment below.

If you’d like to increase your subscription revenues over the next five years using a state-of-the-art CXMS built by publishers, for publishers, then schedule a call with our consulting team to learn more about our organization and how we can help you meet those goals.


Editor’s note: Originally published in 2010 and updated every year with current best practices.


    So right now we offer our customers a digital subscription to the website. If they are print subscribers, there is a hefty discount to the website. If they are not print subscribers, the digital subscription is about the same as the print subscription.

    In the digital subscription, they get an html table of contents and pdfs of all of the articles in the current issue. Because the articles are extremely visual, they are hard to translate to html (iPad will help a lot with this).

    As part of the ‘digital subscription’ our readers get extra stuff, such as extended how-to video series and total access to the 30-year archive.

    Are you saying that we should have an iPad (or whatever) subscription– the digital magazine– a print subscription, AND a ‘reference website’ subscription, with the back issues, videos, and other stuff?


    Hi Dan:

    It depends on how much bonus content you offer.

    The starting point is that a user expects to find a magazine at a magazine website… one they can download and read for 60 minutes or more. The HTML archive is a plus for searching for older articles… like an article index based on a full search text that can answer a question or lead them to the correct issue download.

    The CR website is much closer to the Annual Byers Guide than to a back issue archive in both its design and usage. Most magazines don’t have a companion guide book under the brand and thus do merit a reference website… they just need a magazine website and, of course a hub or portal for audience development.

    Hope that helps,



    While I agree that the linear component of a digital magazine is one of its “reasons for being,” I’m not certain that all hyperlinks are bad. First off, hyperlinks can do far more than leave the magazine and go somewhere else… they can open a new window or tab without exiting the digital magazine.

    Perhaps more important, without hyperlinks, what would digital magazine advertisers be buying?

    Good article!

    Marcus Grimm
    Marketing Director
    Nxtbook Media

    Martin H.

    I guess with the new gadgets that are on the market today a tide of change is for certain, many people read books and news online so why not magazines. I think that things will change pretty quick for readers and an option to switch to an newer way of reading a magazine is an excellent thing.


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