Are you a publisher with an eye on the latest trends in magazine design, production and distribution? Do you want to create a magazine that crosses the media boundaries and reaches a well-targeted audience? If so, what’s the best way for you to go about this? We’ve looked at some of the issues to consider, and it’s not as simple as it would first appear…

Let’s say you have a print version of your magazine. It’s doing OK, but it could be better and you’re concerned about new media and how to meet it head on. You’ve managed to create a pdf version of your magazine, viewable on a desktop computer or tablet or large mobile phone device – and you want something that effectively engages with your target audience.

So you’re thinking, let’s give the reader an extra incentive to view it online – something better than just reading small text; something extra compared to the glossy, papery product in their hands right now.

Your first thought may be an iPad app. It offers you lots of options, such as adding video, animated headlines and so on, but it has its limits. If you’re a small title, looking to expand its audience, remember that even the most successful and best know magazines only reach a maximum 8% of their audience this way. The problem is, not everyone has an iPad, and even if they did and your audience is small, there’s a lot of cost involved in creating a halfway decent iPad app.

lots of google newsstand magazines in a row
Google Newsstand. Not as versatile as it looks

So you turn to Android  – currently offering the biggest available readership potential by far. Strangely there just isn’t quite the same set-up here. Naturally, you want to be a major presence on the google newsstand. That’s where all the hits are. And yes, you can create a pdf preview magazine – but unfortunately, you can’t make an interactive version that can be viewed by everyone.

If you use a program called Woodwing you can create a .fip file that some Android systems can read. Woodwing is a software package that integrates with Adobe products, costing around the £200 mark – though it comes with hugely unwieldy software.

Essentially google (and therefore Android) are not big supporters of interactive magazines. Perhaps they don’t see a real market for it. They see an interactive magazine as essentially just another website, but designed a bit like a magazine. The magazine is lumped in with newspapers – being all about content, and not so much about the style. See Flipboard  to illustrate my point. Flipboard is a platform that ships with new Android OS, and has user-generated ‘magazines’ that are created through a template – so the content can be easily managed and delivered. Sadly, there’s not much room for visual creativity and individuality.

Flipboard looks good, but is constrained visually
Flipboard looks good, but has too many visual constraints

So the question is, can magazines survive in an open, social media-led society?

The short answer is yes. Printed material will always have a place – in the same way that cinema survives even with the advent of Blu-ray and large TVs – but there are some challenges when it comes to the wider brand and its existence in the current media age. As a real-world case study, let’s look at Wired UK – perhaps one of the most well known of the digital brands. They have an iPad interactive app, an Android app – which is not interactive (due to the limitations of this platform, mentioned above) – and lots of disgruntled customers!  They have a website which is updated regularly reflecting mag content in shorter bites – and not just a mirror image of the stories that appear in the print edition, but unique content too. Stories from here stream to Facebook, and provide for a good fan-base following. So their strategy is to cover off all bases.  See link: the complexities of designing Wired for iPad

wired interactive magazine with print version too
Wired has had some digital success

High Street magazines such as Wired,  encourage staff to openly have personal blogs. They employ people that have an online presence already. For example, a fashion director may have a successful blog of their own, aside from the ‘mother-brand’ they’re employed by. Journalists today are expected to have all-round skills that encompass social media. See video link: Magazine innovations from around the world

To summarise, the brand is what matters. The primary money maker is considered to be the printed magazine. Next there’s a website. This supports the magazine and enhances add-ons, such as competitions, events and reader feedback. It also helps with integration on social media, which spreads and maintains knowledge of the primary brand. Finally, an online version of the magazine provides an outlet for people that don’t buy the printed version. They’re usually simply pdfs of the printed mag, available for customers who have a computer or tablet (and may have access to free downloads via library services). These pdfs don’t sell a lot, but they’re easy to upload and manage by the publisher. Some magazines create interactive versions – they have the feel of the primary mag, but with added features – however, this costs the publisher valuable time and money.

So, the difficulty with all these brand extensions is profit margins.

paying for magazine with credit card
Can they make a lot of money?

So where does this leave us with our niche brand? Firstly, establish your web presence, before creating a downloadble pdf or interactive mag. The main advantage of an online presence is that it’s attainable to everyone, whatever their device (Android, Apple, Microsoft etc.). If you then decide to consider a pdf, look at ways to add links – to web pages, video etc. Finally, consider interactive, but look at is as a brand extension, not neccessarily a magazine extension.

Once the ‘interactive’ elements are added, the product becomes less of a magazine and more of a general immersive experience. It becomes less about the words and more about the message you’re trying to convey. Content is always king, but when it comes to interactive magazines – design plays just as an important role as the words themselves.

Let’s look ahead at some ways to deliver your interactive offering. With such a wide range of software and devices to cater for, it’s worth considering alternatives to an iPad-only interactive magazine. The first is to create an interactive HTML5 website – the majority of browsers support HTML5. You could create a very bespoke site (updated each month just like a magazine) using adobe Muse, for example. Then have  a dedicated login area for your staff to view it for free, or even for the public to pay and view it. So remember, it’s about how the message is delivered (like magazines, but interactive), not simply about providing the customer with a page of reading.

The short answer on creating a magazine that crosses all media boundaries is that the future can still be interactive, but not in the traditional sense of a printed magazine. It’s an entirely different beast. It has to be to survive in this social media environment. It’s all about the message you want to get across, and if interactive works for that, so be it – but don’t make it your main target.

So what have we learnt?

  1. Think of your magazine as a brand first and foremost, then consider how best to deliver content.
  2. Encourage staff to have a personal web presence themselves, so they understand social media.
  3. Build an effective web presence for your brand first before you consider a pdf download and/or interactive version.
  4. If you’re going interactive, consider a bespoke interactive website in HTML5 that has more scope to be seen on many devices.



Some good links on the subject…



Some online viewpoints

“I love print magazines that are well-done, but it is rare I find the same experience in digital form.”

“I think when we have more tablet only magazines, without the cost infrastructure of print, creating truly optimized experiences on all major platforms we will see successful stories. It is just going to take some people with vision and the willingness to build the audience.”

“Curated content – magazines in this case – should present you with surprises, taking you places you wouldn’t have thought of looking”

“Something I think many magazines have missed out on is the idea of making the magazine release being an event, something special. Yes, have the day to day material on the website but have the monthly/weekly release be something to look forward to, something of excitement”

 “Magazine publishers are struggling now: nobody has been honest and told them digital demands specific models — which includes design, content, interactions, experiences, etc.” 

Thanks to the bloggers that I’ve referenced for this feature.

Post first published in July 2014


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