Online Magazine Publishing with User-Generated Content

How magazines like Budget Travel pay homage to the unique experiences of their readers

What will the magazines of tomorrow look like?

I know that as a woman in my late twenties, I still prefer a printed product over a digital product. It’s not because I don’t appreciate quick information, which can be easily found in a blog or a digital application. It’s because I still prefer “ownership”, which is something that a digital magazine can’t offer me.

Unfortunately, there’s a large majority of people who prefer to read digitally. Topics like news, business and technology are much easier covered in a more quickly updated format. For the topics that I prefer—food, travel and crafts—I still prefer a glossy page that can be torn from the binding and saved for later. Perhaps I’ll also revert to digital bookmarks for those types of things in the future.

What I do adore about the community of online magazine publishing, is the access that the Internet gives me to the brands that I love. While I do enjoy receiving my print copies of HOW, Martha Stewart Living, Rhode Island Monthly and Travel + Leisure, it doesn’t mean I don’t also frequent their websites.

As a reader of these magazines I’m especially intrigued when I am able to somehow contribute to the website, whether it’s through recipe forums, photo galleries, or story submissions.

Yesterday I taught a 90-minute webinar to publishers called Blogging for Editors. One of my favorite examples I discovered in the research for this presentation was an example from 2008 where Budget Travel created a print magazine that only used content from its readers.

Basically, what Budget Travel did for their 10th anniversary, was create a magazine completely constructed of user-generated content. Every single photo and article was submitted by the dedicated readers of their magazine. Other magazines like Everywhere Magazine and JPG Magazine were actually founded on this same concept.

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Budget Travel recieved 2,800 pitches for stories and finally published the issue with a total of 324 contributors. To help the project along, what they did was offer topics for the readers to write about, and then orchestrate the circus of submissions that came in.

In the editor’s letter, Erik Torkells writes:

“What I love most about this issue is that instead of commemorating the past, it looks to the future. Technology is changing the way readers and editors interact; more and more, our role is to lead a conversation, not deliver a monologue.”

From this issue, Budget Travel launched new features on their website. These days, Budget Travel readers get their own “My Budget Travel” section where they can start their own travel journals and add photos and videos. They’re also encouraged to submit their own True Stories.

Magazine publishers continue to struggle with payroll and staffing, while print subscriptions continue to decrease. As print subscriptions decrease, we’re seeing the constant rise of people starting profitable blogs and making a living from them. It seems that everyone is an expert in something these days.

What if we asked for more submissions from our own readers? In many niches, like food and travel, we have huge communities of dedicated readers that have their own individual perspectives and experiences.

By leveraging the “citizen journalists” in our niche industries, magazines might stand to learn a few lessons from publishers who are harnessing the talent and creativity of their readers, and like Torkells says, “lead a conversation”, rather than “deliver a monologue”.

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