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10 essential features of an app for digital magazines

Luca Filigheddu

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Although the fundamentals of creating a digital magazine are much the same as the fundamentals of creating a paper magazine, there are some fairly major differences too.

If you want to know more about the current state of the publishing industry, we have the perfect content for you.


Possibly the single biggest difference is the option to make use of multimedia elements such as video and audio, which is arguably followed by the option to make use of digital-only capabilities such as links between articles or to external content.

This means that the actual mechanics of putting together an effective and user-friendly digital magazine can take a little time and effort to learn. The good news is that this is a skill which absolutely can be learned by anyone who’s reasonably competent with computers and software.

Speaking of software, from a technical perspective one of the most important decisions any publisher needs to take is the choice of software for the creation of their digital magazine. So that you have an idea of what sort of functionality you ideally want this software to have, here is a list of ten essential features of an app for digital magazines.

Support for a variety of formats

A digital magazine has to look good and perform well on a huge number of devices, but it also has to suit your needs in the best possible way. Support for different format simply has to go straight to the top of any list of essential features of an app for digital magazines.

While the PDF format is still a must for many publishers, newer formats such as HTML5 are paving the way for an always more interactive user experience.

PDF files are the base for Digital Replicas, created by converting a .PDF into a flip-able reader which replicates the layout, advertising and content of the printed magazine.

Publishers can gradually approach the HTML5 format by using a PDF adapted to fit the screen of all devices, and by adding multimedia elements like audio, video, image files and links.

Support for Ebook Formats

Now we appreciate that this might seem a bit odd to have so high on the list of essential features of an app for digital magazines, a digital magazine is not an ebook, and an ebook is not a digital magazine.

Having said that, however, digital magazines are a great platform for cross-selling other products and since people who are able and willing to download digital magazines are probably also (at least potentially) willing to download ebooks, they are a natural fit, so it can pay (literally) to have the right app software to create them.

Support for Single-Page Layout

This is also known as presentation mode and is a highly desirable feature. In the paper world, where there’s space, it can be nice to spread out a magazine with two pages to view, but if you’re reading in more cramped conditions, it’s more common to bend the magazine over on itself so you only see one page.

Likewise in the digital world, if you have a device with a large screen, then it may be feasible to look at two pages at once, but on smaller screens, single-page viewing is often the way to go.


The ability to go straight to any given article and/or look for any specific term is another area where digital publications score hugely over their paper counterparts – or they can do. Make sure your app software allows you to make the most of this advantage. Also, make sure that it allows users to save their searches as this is often highly appreciated.

Ability to Embed Videos

Videos and the digital world go together like they were made for each other. Unlike their paper counterparts, which can only tell viewers where to find a video online, digital magazines can actually embed them in the publication.

As anyone who’s spent any time on YouTube will know, these offer further opportunities for advertising revenue through either adverts in front of the videos or product placements within the videos (while staying within the rules about being upfront about sponsored content). Again, make sure that any app software you choose can support this.

Excellent Control over Navigation Options

Navigation is arguably the Achilles heel of digital publishing. At this point in time, there is absolutely nothing approaching a common standard and no sign of one coming over the horizon.

On the one hand, that’s absolutely understandable given that one of the joys of digital publishing is the opportunity it offers for everyone, even private individuals working on their own, to publish in line with their passions and create a digital magazine which is really meaningful to them and to their target readership.

On the other hand, it can be very frustrating for users, who have to work out how to navigate each and every individual magazine they buy. Make sure that the app you use has powerful tools to support effortless navigation, use them wisely and give your readers an explanation of how to make their way through your magazine somewhere prominent to help them on their way.


In the magazine world, this basically means that your readers can always get an overview of the publication so that they can decide exactly where they want to go next. This makes for easier navigation, which makes for happier readers.

Audio Support

With all the support on video and platforms which support it, it can be easy to forget that audio also works well on the internet and not just for podcasts. Again, this can really give digital publications a huge edge over their paper counterparts.

For example, paper magazines can only publish transcripts of interviews, digital magazines can actually embed the audio so that the readers can also hear the person speaking. You can enhance the reader’s experience by giving them as much control as possible over the audio playback, so look for app software with enhanced audio playback options.

Additional Info Text

This is a great tool for digital magazines which cater to readers with various levels of knowledge on any given topic. In the paper world, publishers continually have to balance the needs of beginners, who can benefit from detailed explanations of issues with which experts are already familiar and more expert readers who may find it tedious to keep skipping over these explanations.

In the digital world, you can pitch the body of the article at readers who have a greater level of knowledge but use text boxes to add extra information for those who need it without creating visual clutter and slowing down those for whom these details are superfluous.


Never underestimate the power of archiving. Depending on your business model, you may choose to give away all or part of your archive to encourage people to subscribe to the latest issues or you may choose to monetize it for extra income.

Whichever way you go, you should do everything you can to produce extra revenue out of existing content. With this in mind, it is hugely valuable to be able to link directly to back issues.