The 10 biggest digital magazine mistakes

So you’ve launched a digital magazine or you’ve created a digital twin for your print magazine. Congratulations! Now take this 10 point checkup to see how you’re doing. In a blog published by Unbound Media, Michelle Kalman tells of contacting a broad mix of industry experts to research some of the key problems in digital magazine publishing. These are 10 of the big mistakes she discovered.

1. Duplicating the print experience. The print and digital media are not the same. Both present limitations and opportunities. Recognize the limitations of the digital medium, but also be sure to take advantage of all the opportunities it offers to build your magazine’s community through social media tools or to extend your story through video.

2. Assuming the online user experiences digital content in the same way a reader experiences print content. Your online navigation may not easily parallel your printed table of contents. Online users may jump around more than print readers. The importance of position may change and you may need to make your advertisers aware of this fact.

3. Not bothering with research. Just because you’ve researched your print publication doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do research before you begin to develop your digital version. Look at successful online magazines and figure out what makes them work. Find out how your readers want to access content.

4. Failing to get the best digital talent you can afford. Hire talented web developers and designers to produce your digital version. They will know what works in print, but may not work on line. Don’t forget to invest in social media activities.

5. Producing too many pages. The attention span of an online reader is much shorter than that of a print reader. Forget the three-page articles with columns of grey type.  Break down content into smaller bites in separate sections. And don’t forget to include creative elements to keep the reader’s interest.

6. Not keeping up with changing technology. So you’ve created a digital magazine or a digital version of your print publication. What platform are your readers using? Does your online publication work well on that platform? Each platform has its own rules and restrictions. There’s iPads, Android tablets, various readers, and mobile apps–plus whatever came out last week. No single digital product is going to work well on all platforms. You’ll  need to keep up with the technology to know where best to spend your digital dollars.

7. Thinking of money before engagement. Is your digital publication a desperate attempt to pull in some funds for the organization? In that case, it’s likely to fail. You’ll need to create engaging, relevant content in order to attract and involve an audience.

8. Not considering the advertiser. Advertising considerations are not the same as reader requirements. Spend money and time on preparing the right online presence for your advertisers.

9. Forgetting to get feedback. As you are developing your new online  magazine, get input from all those who will have a stake in the success of the publication. That includes audience, advertisers, and your staff.

10. Being satisfied with the status quo. Keep improving; take advantage of new digital opportunities and make sure your content continues to be fresh and engaging.

Is print dead? It’s too soon to start writing the obituary

The news continues to come with gasps of amazement. Twenty years after its founding, SmartMoney magazine will dump its print edition in order to focus on! Twenty-five print staffers will lose their jobs! By the end of the year the Financial Times could have more digital subscribers than buyers of print copies! U.S. publishers report that foreign e-book sales last year increased 333 percent over 2010 sales! Is print dead? Or, at best on life support?

Probably not. A 2012 Reynolds Journalism Institute study confirms that tablet users continue to read print newspapers and magazines. Nearly half of Apple iPad owners and a quarter of Android table owners say they have a subscription to at least one print publication. A recent Pew State of the News Media study noted that a quarter of Millennials (18-24 year olds) said they read a printed newspaper the day before. Some 22 percent said they read newspapers at least every other day. That is compared with 40 percent of adults overall who say the same. The New York Times reports that 10 percent of its hard copy subscribers are Millenials; 9 percent subscribe digitally.

In the U.S., more print magazines were launched than closed in 2011, the same trend as evident in 2010. The Economist, a highly-respected British news magazine, writes about a new sense of optimism among publishers due to the increased readership of magazines. In fact, magazine audiences are growing faster than those for television or newspapers.

So, what accounts for the statistics of the first paragraph? The editor of SmartMoney magazine says the volatility of markets and asset classes has increased the need for rapid delivery of personal finance intelligence. Also, the magazine was losing ad pages. Thus the decision to cut their losses and try the digital model. Why is the Financial Times increasing digital subscribers at such a rapid rate? The magazine was one of the first to recognize the possibility of monetizing content on the Web and from the beginning charged for content that they made sure offered quality, rather than quantity. And, they were innovative in their approach to technology, opting for HTML5 very early on, with the result that their Web app drew 2 million users in less than a year.

What about the growth of foreign e-book sales? After all, a 333 percent increase is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Perhaps not so amazing when you realize that even after its phenomenal growth last year,  e-book sales still represents only 6 percent of total sales.

Perhaps some day print will die. But that day will not come this year, next year, or even next decade. Save the obituary writing job for your grandchild.

Four ways to evaluate your magazine’s purpose statement

Kent Wilson teaches the session on Developing a Business Strategy for your magazine

You probably already have a purpose statement for your magazine, if not on paper at least in your head. But is it as good as it could be and is it accomplishing all you wish? Answer these questions to see whether your purpose statement accomplishes its goals.

1. Is it written down on paper and accessible to every staff member and every freelancer? Every person who works with your magazine in any way should know who the target audience is, what the publication is expected to do for them, and how you will do it. If this is not clear to everyone, your staff may become confused and disagree on direction, and your magazine will lose focus.

2. Is it succinct? A great purpose statement may be only one or two sentences, clearly stating who, what, and how, incorporating the audience, desired result, and method of accomplishing the result.

3. Does it guide your decisions on how and what you will publish?

4. Is it practical for decision making?

Learn more about writing an effective purpose statement in the video offered for free streaming on MTI’s Web site. The video on Strategic Planning for Magazines includes information on developing a business strategy, with help in  developing a purpose statement, a vision statement, and defining your values.

Extend your magazine’s brand for more impact

Brand extension is a key to continued and enhanced success for magazines, according to publishers like Rupert Turnbull of Wired magazine, who asserts that education is the “next big thing” in brand extension. In the last two years, Wired, a popular print magazine, has launched an online magazine, mobile and tablet editions, a podcast, an events business, and a consulting arm. Print is still key for Condé Nast, publisher of Wired magazine. Over the last eight years, Condé Nast has launched some 60 magazines and is ready to launch another four in the next four months.

However, the publishing giant is looking at ways to extend its brands and its leaders see educational strategies like its newly launched College of Fashion and Design or recent London tech conference as key, along with events like Glamour Women of the Year or the Vogue Festival.

In fact, some Christian magazines have been using events and educational strategies successfully for decades. Christian magazines have sponsored weekend writing conferences, correspondence courses, learning tourism, and camps and classes of all kinds. Events have been high on the list for magazines which have sponsored music festivals, conferences, retreats, and contests.

In this day when so many “experts” are talking about the need to go digital, mobile, and interactive, print magazines can trade on their names to extend their brand in other ways. Certainly it is important to see how technology is changing the way your readers prefer to consume your product. But technology is not the only way to get your message out there. Even super-wired magazines like Wired, with online, mobile, and tablet editions, are looking at other low-tech ways of extending their brand and increasing their reach.

What is a magazine? This criteria may surprise you

At least, that is the assertion of the writer of a Mequoda Group white paper on digital magazine publishing. He (or she) asks why the magazine medium has survived the challenge of radio and television for the reader’s time and attention. Perhaps it’s because of what differentiates a magazine from any other written content, whether books or Web site. He says the reason the magazine medium has survived and will survive is because of the difference in user experience. He says it is these attributes which define the user experience and make it distinct.

1. Magazines are linear, meant to be read from front to back, but not necessarily in their entirety. Hyperlinking is not linear. Any medium which makes it possible for the reader to skip around among hundreds or thousands of articles is not linear.

2. Magazines are finite, unlike Internet Web sites. He says the reader can say “I have finished the magazine. Now I’m looking for the next issue.”

3. Magazines are periodic, whether weekly, monthly, or quarterly. They have an established frequency and do not come out more or less often.

4. Magazines are cohesive, edited, curated, and culled to produce the most interesting and relevant content for the reader. The editorial content is connected and the whole is greater than a sum of its parts

5. Magazines are portable and can be taken to a beach, the toilet, or anywhere else. As tablet computers become more versatile they may serve the function of the paper versions, perhaps even kick starting a resurgence of magazine reading.

6. Magazines are textual. Text is the king and photographs are ancillary, serving only to illustrate the text.

7. Magazines are collectible. People like to own and save magazines. At a magazine Web site, users must be able to download an issue of the magazine, says the Mequoda Group writer. If that’s not possible, it’s not a magazine Web site. In fact, according to an article on, tablet users are creating digital archives of their favorite magazines, spurring a boom in back issue sales.

For more useful information from the Mequoda Group, visit

Five checkpoints for a stronger magazine

Sure, most magazines fail within the first 10 years of operation. But there are things you can do to help make sure  your magazine won’t be one of the casualties. Here are five checkpoints to consider as you look at the future of your magazine.

1. Checkpoint One: Your magazine’s mission and editorial, marketing, and design philosophy. How long has it been since you’ve reviewed your magazine’s mission? Does everyone on the staff know why your magazine exists and what purpose it was designed to serve? A clearly and tightly focused mission will help you to stay on track as you make day to day decisions, selecting  articles, designing pages, and marketing your magazine.

2. Checkpoint Two: Know your audience. Do you know who your audience is and who you want it to be? One American magazine for college students was alarmed to find some 15 years after it was founded that the declining audience was composed mainly of people in their late 20s and early 30s. What happened? As the editorial and design staff aged, they failed to keep up with the tastes and issues faced by their supposed audience, and little by little the magazine grew older with the staff. Do you really know the audience you’re trying to reach? The more you know about your audience, the better equipped you will be to produce a magazine they will want to read.

3. Checkpoint Three: Your marketing plan. Are you continuing to look for new ways to get your magazine to your prospective readers? Have you explored new options as they’ve become available? Especially with a small staff, it’s easy to focus on producing the magazine and to forget to budget time to consider how you will get your wonderful product into the hands of readers.

4. Checkpoint Four: Your financial situation. Do you have a budget and are you keeping track of expenses? Do you have a fairly good idea of how much it will cost to produce your magazine next year and how many subscribers, advertisers, or donors you will need in order to continue to produce the kind of publication you now have or would like to have? A carefully-prepared budget and financial plan will make it possible to gauge your progress throughout the year and will alert you to potential problems or the need for an infusion of cash or a course correction.

5. Checkpoint Five: Are you continuing to learn your craft? Magazine publishing is changing rapidly. Are you keeping up with trends in magazine publishing and those that affect your audience? Design styles are changing and the expectations of consumers are changing, as well. It’s easy just to continue doing what you’ve always done and the way you’ve done it. However, those who continue to learn, whether through formal training or keen observation will be better equipped to produce a quality publication that continues to appeal to its market..

More good news for magazines

Magazines in the U.S. are experiencing a resurgence, according to the Evangelical Press Association, quoting a report from, a magazine database. Launches of new magazine titles grew in 2011, as did total advertising revenue, notes Doug Trouten, EPA director.

Launches of new magazines grew by nearly 24 percent last year, while the number of magazines going out of business dropped by nearly 14 percent. This is good news for a magazine industry whose demise was widely predicted during the worst years of the recession. Advertising revenues, which fell off sharply in the last few years, turned the corner and began growing again, increasing 2 percent, while ad pages dropped 1 percent.

These statistics cover all publications, and may not reflect reality in the Christian magazine publishing world, which is still struggling to regain its footing after dropping at least a dozen established national publications representing hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

According to, the largest single category of new titles were food-related, followed by regional magazines. However, regional magazines was the category with the largest number of closures last year, followed by bridal magazines.