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How to Start an Online Magazine?

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Yuri Musienko
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Online magazines are online publications that publish content in a package of five to ten articles per week, month or year. In this article, you will find a guide on how to launch such an online magazine and monetize it. We will show you with specific examples how to find a profitable niche, when and why you need to use Flash, PDF or App, how to structure content and much more..

What will you write about

If you have already chosen a topic. Even if your chosen niche is already widely covered, this does not mean that you cannot offer your readers something more useful or interesting than your competitors. For example, you can attract people by changing the presentation format or focusing on specific things that will be of interest to readers. There are several ways to find such things.

The easiest way is to find groups that match your niche on social networks or forums and see: what people ask about, what causes them questions more often, which topics have the most comments and why. This will provide insight into what is poorly covered in existing online magazines.

Another way is to use tools like Google Keyword Planner. For example, you want to launch a mixed martial arts magazine in the United States. In this case, you go to Google Keyword (registration required), select the US region and search for search queries using the keywords “mixed martial arts”.

This will show you exactly what people are interested in. In our case, this is information related to equipment and seminars. Therefore, in order for your mixed martial arts magazine to become popular, you need to write about equipment (what equipment exists, how to choose, what are the prices, how to use, etc.) and seminars (what are in the world and in a particular region, the calendar, what they will be about, how to buy a ticket, etc).

At the same time, you need to understand that people will use for search not only the full name of the topic, but also abbreviations, synonyms (“MMA” and “mma”). Data on them also needs to be analyzed using Google Keyword.

If you haven't chosen a topic yet. If you want to start an online magazine not for the money, the solution is simple: write about what you are interested in. If the magazine is a business project, you need to look for topics that will be popular in the next 5-10 years. You can find them using Google Trends. Here's what happens if you compare the dynamics of the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, Krav Maga and Taekwondo:


The dynamics of the popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, Krav Maga and Taekwondo over 10 years. Recession at the end of the chart - the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic

The graph shows that Mixed Martial Arts has consistently high popularity in the United States, compared to Krav Maga and Taekwondo. Consequently, the online magazine for Mixed Martial Arts has a large audience and therefore has a better chance of success.

Similarly, you can use Google Trends to analyze the popularity of other topics, both globally and in a particular region or country.

What is the purpose of running the magazine

When launching your magazine, you need to decide on its purpose, since it will greatly affect the design, the choice of a platform for publishing content and the way to monetize the project, editorial policy and much more. Such goals can be roughly divided into three groups.

Selling subscriptions and ads. Most online publications create high quality content just to make money from ads or subscriptions. Here are some examples:

  • National Geographic offers many free articles with advertisements on its website and app, and uses a subscription system to access more advanced articles and the archive;
  • The Economist and FASTC offer a free digital copy of their magazines to anyone who subscribes to their prints;
  • BuzzFeed uses banner ads and links, and sponsored content to monetize their magazines;
  • Extra Crunch by TechCrunch distributes its lyrics only online and only by paid subscription.
Attracting readers' attention. These magazines are usually distributed free of charge to inspire readers with interesting new content and keep them interested in a brand, market, or important topic. Here are some examples:
  • WholeFoodsMagazine — is a free online magazine that offers a lot of interesting information about healthy eating and lifestyle, but its main focus is selling at Whole Foods supermarket chain.
  • The Red Bulletin and Airbnb Magazine — subscription publications that should increase reader engagement with their brand.
  • Journals for employees. Many companies produce publications for internal distribution to staff, which may include news, reports, job instructions, advices, etc.
  • Non-commercial publications. These are political, environmental, scientific and religious magazines that inform readers about important topics and events for a certain period of time.
Sale of goods and services. These magazines usually resemble a brochure or product catalog. The most obvious example is the duty-free editions you find on planes. They only contain advertisements and sometimes instructions. Other brigt examples:
  • My Volvo Magazine. Print and online magazines with news, company facts and a catalog of car news and branded items from Volvo Cars;
  • Forbo Flooring. A beautiful online magazine published in HTML5 format highlighting the benefits of Marmoleum Solid linoleum.

How to choose a content presentation format

Online magazines are published in a variety of formats. These can be online publications like I am chef Magazine, native iOS or Android apps like The Economist, or they can be part of a magazine subscription service like Zinio or Kindle Newsstand. Moreover, each such format has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Flash Magazines. It is a technology created by Macromedia and then bought by Adobe. It was used to create multimedia content by almost all sites and online magazines in the 2000s. But today Flash is considered obsolete, and almost everyone has abandoned it.


Messages indicating the lack of flash in Google Chrome in the default version

Magazines in PDF format. At the same time, the PDF format imposes almost no restrictions on the magazine's design and layout, except for the fact that the standard for the size of PDF documents is A4 with vertical orientation. Because of this, such documents are difficult to read on desktops and smartphones.



Zoom and panoramming is required for normal PDF reading on small screens. Source


In addition, PDF reading occurs by opening a separate file. Outside the browser, it must be downloaded and opened using special software, because of the publisher cannot control distribution and changes, and this also reduces the possibilities for content monetization.

Flipbook Magazines. It is a technology that allows you to embed PDF documents into a website for easier access and reading. Flipbook has the same advantages as PDF magazines: simplicity, the ability to quickly copy prints, and the prevalence of the format. And as an added benefit, Flipbook documents don't need to be downloaded before reading.


Example of magazine in Flipbook format. Source

The main disadvantage in Flipbook is the same as in PDF: such documents are inconvenient to read on small screens, and if the text is small, then on large ones too.

Own App for magazine. Some publications create their own mobile apps to publish their content. This makes it possible to adapt the layout of the document to the screen size of a particular reader, thus providing the optimal convenience for viewing and reading content on any device.


Online magazines in app format are easy to read on any device. Source

Besides, additional functions can be implemented in the application: displaying dynamic personalized interactive ads, downloading a document for offline reading, integrating multimedia (music, animation, video), analyzing reader behavior, and much more.

The main disadvantages of this format are that it is more expensive and longer than other options, since you need to develop your own application. Now it is not as difficult and expensive as it was 5 years ago, but it is still quite problematic. In addition, if the magazine's application is placed on Google Play and the App Store, then you need to share with them part of the profit.

Magazine inside the aggregator application. The online magazine can also be distributed using aggregator applications that provide the reader with content from multiple editions in a single application. For example, on free Google News and Apple News or Amazon subscription Kindle Newsstand, Zinio, Texture, Magzter and Readly.

The main advantage of this approach is that you do not need to develop your own application and you can immediately access the aggregator audience. From the disadvantages you need to share part of the profit with the aggregator, high competition with other magazines within the platform.

HTML5 magazines. Unlike Fixed Layout PDFs or Flipbooks, HTML5 uses the principles of responsive design to adjust layout and typography to fit the reader's screen size. When an HTML5 magazine is read on a computer, it is almost no different from browsing a site, except for a linear stream. Reading an online magazine in HTML5 format on a smartphone is also very similar to viewing an edition in an app.

In addition, like apps, HTML5 magazines can track user behavior and use a variety of additional features including interactive polls and games.

There are almost no downsides to this option since there are many platforms on the network on which you can create articles and entire magazines in HTML5 without having to learn programming. But such platforms usually work by subscription.

How to structure your online magazine

Title page. It usually resembles a print cover with a large, attractive photo or image and a brief description of the magazine's content. The main rule is that the cover should be bright!

Examples of covers from Glamor and WholeFoodsMagazine

If the magazine is released as a standalone page, attachment or HTML5, then video can also be used for the cover background.

Internal filling. The interior design of the magazine also resembles a print edition, except that you can use hyperlinks, videos, animations, interactive elements and music.

Moreover, the content structure is usually as follows:

1. Content

2. Letter from the editor

3. Pages with articles. Depending on the format of the online magazine, this is either an analogue of a printed edition with standard page sizes (PDF, Flipbook), or each article is made as a separate page of text (App, HTML5).

 4. A section with an indication of all authors, designers, layout designers and other specialists who participated in the creation of a specific issue of the online magazine. Sometimes this page is placed after the “Contents”, or it is absent at all, some magazines combine this section with the “Contents”.

5. The reverse side of the magazine. Typically, this is either an advertisement or a subscription form.


Cost of launching an online magazine

It all depends on what kind of magazine you create and what will be in it. For example, you can start a personal journal without spending a dollar if you use your own texts and free tools. Whereas the launch of such a publication as National Geographic or The Economist will require from 5 to 50 thousand dollars for each issue.


How to Start an Online Magazine? key takeaways:

#1. What will you write about
#2. What is the purpose of running the magazine
#3. How to choose a content presentation format
#4. How to structure your online magazine
#5. Cost of launching an online magazine

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Yuri Musienko
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