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6 rules to follow in order to publish a digital magazine

Luca Filigheddu

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It’s little wonder that so many people, organisations and companies of all sizes are realising the benefits of publishing a digital magazine. This is the age where content is king and content marketing rules the internet.

Digital magazines have so much to offer in this environment that really in many cases it would be hard to think of a reason not to publish at least one. At the same time, however, successful digital magazine publishing, as with so many other activities, generally requires a combination of hard work and know how. To help with the latter, here is a list of six rules to follow in order to publish a digital magazine.


1. Make your magazine readable

Of course content matters. But all that hard work you put into creating great content will count for absolutely nothing unless people can actually, physically read it. There are two points to keep in mind here.

Firstly people of all ages have varying levels of eyesight. This includes younger people. Even if you’re creating a magazine specifically for the young-adult demographic, you need to realise that some of them are going to have a whole lot less than 20/20 vision, make sure you keep their needs in mind.

Secondly, these days, your content could be read on anything from a huge monitor to the tiny touchscreen on a budget Android handset. It has to be legible on any and all of them. Fortunately, both can aims can be easily achieved with a bit of common sense and a touch of technical knowledge.


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The common-sense part is sticking with fonts (like Verdana designed) which were actually designed for on-screen use and being sensible about contrasting text and background and using colours which are physically easy to the eye (as opposed to bright and brash ones, except as accent colours when you really want to make a statement).

The second means that need to have a way to make content adapt to the device on which it is viewed. This means either supporting reflowing or using responsive design. The good news is, if you use a quality piece of software to publish a digital magazine, it will probably have this covered.

2. Make sure your magazine works from download to navigation

This may seem a blindingly obvious point, but a quick glance through user reviews on the Google and Apple stores suggests that many publishers fail to grasp it. From a technical standpoint, this is, understandable in the Android world, where there are so many different versions of the operating system still in use. In the Apple world, however, it’s much less likely that users will be on antiquated versions of iOS.

Users, however, generally have very little regard for the technicalities, they just want to pick up a digital magazine which opens and which they can actually read. Again, if you use quality software to produce your digital magazine, you will probably have this covered, but if you do find yourself struggling, you may find that your best solution, in the short term, is to focus on one platform and get it right there before moving (back) to the other one. As Apple tends to have a higher percentage of users on its most recent operating system, this is likely to be the one to choose.

Once readers have managed to download and open your digital magazine, make sure that  navigation is intuitive. While digital magazines are already a huge and growing industry, there aren’t any fixed standards on how they should be presented.

This means every that every time a reader picks up a new title, they may be faced with having to unlearn what they have learned from previous purchases and learn a new interface from scratch.From a user’s perspective, this can be a really frustrating experience.

One of the golden rules of any industry is to make life easy for your customers. So, put a section in a prominent place in your magazine explaining exactly how to navigate through the digital magazine (as opposed to what’s in it). Remember, it may seem obvious to you, but it may be completely obscure to your readers.

3. Make your digital magazines interactive

Yes, you can just make your digital magazine the on-screen equivalent of a paper magazine, but you’re wasting so many opportunities if you do. Every successful company does all it can to engage its customers and going digital gives publishers a huge leg up over the paper world.

In the paper world, interactivity is largely restricted to running competitions and publishing letters (or these days, more likely e-mails). Online, you can have them playing games and completing quizzes where they see how they do against other readers. You can link them to forums where they can chat with other readers and/or members of your team. You can include audio and video and links to other articles. There are all kinds of possibilities, so make the most of them.

4. Publish little and often

publish often

Digital publishing frees you from the hassle of print schedules and the logistics of distribution. This means that you can and probably should look to publish smaller publications more frequently rather than more substantial ones less often. As a rough rule of thumb, publish something which can be enjoyed and digested in an hour, at most. Less can be fine, too.

Digital magazines are often consumed by people on the go, particularly commuters, who simply want some interesting and engaging content they can read in a rush. As a reminder, however, the more content you include, the more important it becomes to have absolutely crystal clear navigation and we’d like to repeat, it can be very beneficial to include a navigation section within the magazine itself.

5. Use free content as a teaser

Free content is a reality of publishing for the simple reason that magazines are generally entirely discretionary purchases and readers understandably want to be sure that they’re going to get value for money before they part with their cash.

Your free content has to be a reasonable representation of what your customers can expect to find in your digital magazine itself. In other words, it has to offer the same sort of level of quality, and, neither significantly higher nor significantly lower and it has to be on relevant topics.

It doesn’t have to be your most recent content. Once you’ve built up a library of back issues, you can put some of them (generally the oldest) online for free, so customers can see what they’re missing.

Having said that, there is nothing which says it has to be your most recent content. Once you start to build up a library of back issues, you can put some of them (typically your oldest issues) online for free, so customers can see what they’re missing.

As you start building up even more content, you may even be able to start reusing it in different ways to maximize your income stream. For example, you could extract some relevant articles from your old issues and put them online for free as samples and put non-time-sensitive content together in other formats for resale. You could also give away your very oldest issues for free, but charge for access to the full archive.


6. Leverage the unique advantage of digital: analytics


You’ve already decided to join the whole digital transformation wave. You might as well take full advantage of the benefits it offers. One of the key advantages of anything digital is the ability to apply analytics to almost every aspect of your digital asset, magazines included.

If you look back to print magazines, there were stats such as magazines sold on newsstands, subscriptions, and analysis of your subscriber base. But do you know what the most interesting articles are? Do you know which sentences or phrases may have resulted in a sale? Do you know what ads were the most popular with your readers? Do you know how many picked up your magazine today, or an hour ago or within the span of date A and date B? These are the kinds of questions that can be answered with in-app analytics. In fact, there are analytics tools and functionalities that specialise in digital magazines!

Furthermore, in today’s competitive world, analytics has now passed from a support tool to an absolute necessity. Analytics shows what’s wrong with your entire set-up. It allows you to easily notice if readership has gone down or a sudden drop in activity in your app. It signals problems early on that can easily cripple your subscriber experience. This is primarily due to its real-time tracking feature, allowing you to remedy problems with your app or magazine early on.

Analytics can help track clicks, time on page, swipe behaviour and more. There are many insights, unique only to your magazine that can be unveiled with analytics. So be sure to set-up and track key performance indicators that are important to you.

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: