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3 ways to create a digital magazine starting from the paper

Luca Filigheddu

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If you’re already running a successful paper magazine, then you may already have decided that you want to create a digital magazine, but you may also feel a little out of your depth when it comes to the practicalities of going about it.

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The good news is that the key point to creating a successful digital magazine is exactly the same as the key point to creating a successful digital one – content. As for the practicalities, here are three top tips for people who want to create a digital magazine starting from a paper one.

Start with the Format
If you’ve been doing some research on this yourself, you’ll probably have realized that there are two main formats which you can use to create a digital magazine, these are the PDF magazine – whose evolved version is called flip book – and the digital reflow.

There are also “magazine websites”, which produce content in the same sort of way as a traditional magazine, but which have abandoned the traditional format. These do have their uses but are unlikely to be the best choice for anyone looking to create a digital magazine starting from a paper one, we’ll, therefore, pass on that for now.

The PDF format is a long-established digital staple, with many uses, but it’s worth remember that although PDF stands for Portable Document Format, in this case “portable” refers to the fact that a PDF document will print the same way regardless of what computer/mobile device and printer you use.

They are far from ideal for on-screen viewing, particularly on smaller devices as the text does not automatically adjust to the screen size on the viewing device. There are apps which can help with this, but this creates a barrier to usage and may put off non-technical readers. PDF files can also bulk up very quickly, which creates further problems.

Essentially the popularity of PDF ebooks is probably down to how easy and affordable they are to create. If, however, your aim is to create a truly enjoyable digital magazine, then digital reflow format is likely to provide a much more pleasant user experience and therefore to help encourage your customers to part with their cash.

A reflow is designed so that text, images, videos and other interactive elements are enlarged to perfectly fit the screen of a device. Moreover, they use “vertical swipe”, which allows readers to swipe from side to side to browse articles and to scroll down to read them, providing greater usability.

Review your Design

By and large, most of what works in print format works in digital and vice versa, however, as so often in life, it’s the details which make the difference. There are two details in particular which can work very differently between the two formats.

Images can generally be more compressed than they are on paper and also lower-quality images (in the sense of images with lower pixel counts such as those taken on smartphones rather than dedicated cameras). Whether or not it is appropriate to include these “lower-grade” images is a matter for editorial judgement.

Fonts are also noticeably different on screen as compared to paper. The absolute simplest rule of thumb is to stick with Georgia and/or Verdana, which were both designed with on-screen use in mind. If you do want to try other fonts, then make sure you double-check that they do actually read as clearly on screen as you think they should.

On a similar note, font sizing usually needs to be bigger for digital documents than for printed ones. Twelve point is probably about as low as you should go, 14 point would be quite reasonable. Remember that increasing the font size in digital format can be done essentially for free, whereas it carries an overhead in paper and ink (and distribution costs) in the paper world.

Stay Restrained

Picking up on the last point, in principle, digital magazines can be much more visually lavish than their paper equivalents because the expenses associated with high-quality printing (or even low-quality printing) have been completely removed. Obviously, it makes sense to take advantage of this wherever possible, for example by making greater use of images, infographics, interactive contents, videos, HTML5 and such like.

For everyone’s sake, however, particularly the sake of your readers, resist the temptation to go wild with colour and graphics. Even assuming you manage to incorporate a lot of colour into your publication without impacting readability (which is a very questionable assumption), you still have to remember that colours will almost certainly display differently according to the device on which they are viewed, in fact in some cases there will actually be quite substantial differences. High-end smartphones, for example, will have very different screens from their budget counterparts, but your magazine has to display just as well on each of them.

Moving the first steps into the digital word can be tough. For a complete guide on how to go digital, don’t forget to download our ebook: