How to Create an Online Magazine in 2018


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An online magazine is a great business model that can be very enjoyable to run and, of course, very profitable. In this post, we will list tasks in the chronological order that will build a successful magazine faster, so let’s get straight to the point and create an online magazine from the ground up.

Creating a plan for your brand new online magazine

Everything starts with a plan, and an online magazine is no different. You need to spend a decent amount of time planning. I assume that you have already picked your online magazine niche and learned everything about your competitors. If not, you should do that before anything else.

Make an editorial plan

Start with editorial planning and create your content strategy. Build an editorial calendar for at least one year, ideally for two years. Editorial calendars need to be consistent and help you build exciting, premium content for your digital magazine. Make sure your content isn’t repetitive.

Ideally, the outcome of this plan should be a table of contents for each upcoming issue over the next year or at least a list of sections you are going to write about in each upcoming issue of your online magazine.

Once the plan is ready with your editors, consult with your marketing team on the topics you outlined so that they can check the relevance and give you some useful insights on how to create better content or adjust the topics a bit. Creating content that has the greatest demand and lowest competition will draw readers faster.

Click here to download an editorial calendar template.

Decide upon a revenue strategy

It is very important to decide upon your revenue strategy. There are generally two main strategies:

  • A subscription-based online magazine where the visitor can access a limited amount of content before being asked to subscribe to access more. The revenue is generated from subscriptions sold.
  • A sponsorship-based online magazines where visitors can access all the content for free and revenue is generated from sponsors and advertisers.

Both these models are quite different and it’s very important to decide which best fits the goals of your magazine. In its earliest stages, your online magazine might operate slightly differently until your website’s traffic and your email subscriber database grows to a certain point. However, it’s important to plan the system in such a way that it grows efficiently with your magazine.​

Consider all other magazine formats

Yes, this article is about starting an online magazine, but it’s also important to stop and think for a moment about the magazine publishing formats available out there. There are three common magazine publishing models:

  • Print only. In this case, you’ll always have to produce a magazine PDF and send it to the printer. The process involves creating publication branding, designing a magazine layout, and going through proofreading stages with an editorial team.
  • Print + online. In this case, you need all the above plus online publication. The ideal solution is to publish the most recent version online as a modern flipbook and, as soon as the next edition comes out, publish it on your digital library along with other past issues. The most recent version always has to get the maximum exposure to boost sales and advertising revenue.

Online only. In this case, you can chose to produce a PDF or not. Online magazines can work entirely as a website as long as it has a magazine specific structure. Each magazine needs to have a linear reading experience and must be isolated by issue. Content structure in an online magazine creates a crucial difference when it comes to traffic generation, email capturing, and monetization.

Define your creative strategy

Magazines are far more of a visual medium than a newsletter or blog, and since we are building an online magazine we have even more options to “speak” with the reader. Again, I assume you are the geek of your niche and you have already defined the character of your readers.

Defining the reader plays a big part in your creative strategy, helping us pick the right font, text size, and speaking tone. It even impacts branding decisions, user experience, and so much more.

These four parts cover the online magazine planning stage, but now it’s time to take some massive action. The plan that we just defined will assure you’re taking a consistent direction towards success.

Now let’s build your first magazine issue.

Understanding online magazine layout design

Creating the first issue is extremely important, because it will help you to understand if everything works as planned in regards to time and budget.

The first issue will also lay down the foundation for your magazine’s branding and style, which you should never radically alter once it’s established. The design, user experience, and style all need to progress through evolutionary phases, rather than sudden revolution.

Do your best with the layout and design of the first issue, give the magazine a recognizable brand, impart visual meaning to different sections of the magazine, and use your brand’s color palette to maximum effect.

As soon as the first issue is complete and you still have all the fresh ideas and experiences from designing it, create a brand book. A magazine’s brand book is like a manual for your magazine’s layout design. It should have each element described with examples (i.e., pull quotes should look like this, folios like so, sections like this, so on and so forth). This should be a tool that will help you keep your issues consistent and professional no matter if you work with one designer, a team of designers, or simply outsource your magazine design.

Just don’t forget that you have to keep your brand book up to date at all times. As soon as you update or tweak any element on your magazine, it should be updated in the brand book.

In most cases, magazines need to be designed using Adobe InDesign, or similar software, to keep the layout visually appealing and professional. This also gives you an additional format for your magazine: the PDF. This format is very useful when working with editorial team, also for an offline reading and for customer email capturing.

Only if you are using a purely online magazine model (and you don’t want to go the extra mile creating a great visual experience for your readers) can you skip this step and go with a magazine website approach for your articles. This might work really well for some niches, but others, like beauty, travel, or style, might need something visually stronger.

It’s important to understand that online-only magazines are not simply websites. Call it blog if you just want to post some text and pictures. We, as magazine publishers, are here to offer premium content and a top-tier reading experience. Our mission is to bring the best value to our readers.

Publishing the first issue of your magazine

Before you publish your first issue, you need a website to promote your magazine and route all the traffic. The website needs to be built with an email capture approach. Ideally, there needs to be two main parts on your website: free content and premium content.

Free content is usually the content that is available to your website’s visitors to showcase what your magazine is about and to allow them to see if it aligns with their interests. The goal is to make them subscribe to your mailing list so you can let them know when your new magazine issue is up, which brings us to your premium content.

Since you have just started your online magazine and you only have one issue, simply ask visitors to leave their email address to read your content and you’ll turn them into paying customers later using email marketing.

Ideally, publish your first issue as a modern-style magazine, and convert it into a digital library item as soon as the next issue comes out. This option requires a bit of extra work for your production team, but it also brings the most benefits, such as an amazing desktop and mobile experience, Google visibility, and multiplatform publishing. Alternatively, you can publish your online magazine as a classic digital edition, as flipbook, or as a portal digital library.

Lastly, if you have designed your magazine and already have a PDF, you can simply allow it to be downloaded in exchange of an email address or allow it to be printed using a print on demand service.

Your online magazine is now live and people can read it. What’s next? Now you need to bring as many eyeballs as possible from your niche to read the magazine. We’ll post part two on how to create an online magazine within a couple of weeks. Subscribe below so you won’t miss it.

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