Illustration of red-headed woman reading a digital magazine on her smartphone.

Digital magazines offer a useful and flexible tool for today’s marketing experts, delivering a best-of-both-worlds combination. The convenience and speed of digital joined to the depth and authority of magazines.

They can be defined as a platform for providing an audience with digital content on a regular basis. Exactly what form this content takes, how regularly publication occurs and where the offering begins and ends are all fluid. 

They are especially valuable for retention when communicating with a niche audience. Membership bodies, businesses’ established customers, trade organisations, alumni, workforces and even informal enthusiast groups can all be reached effectively, while the magazines’ digital nature encourages organic growth to a wider audience too.

But what are they, what’s the difference between the various options and how can you turn them to your advantage?

The fundamentals of digital magazines

The term ‘digital magazine’ is a generous one, and ‘digital magazine software’, ‘digital magazine app’ and ‘digital magazine platforms’ are common terms when you Google.

A cursory look reveals what can become a bewildering array of options. What’s the difference between pageturners, flipbooks, microsites, interactive apps or any one of dozens of other types of platform?

Broadly speaking, all of the above are potential versions of a digital magazine. It means anyone considering a digital magazine can pick the right tool for the job in reaching their audience.

Costs and pricing will naturally vary depending on the subscription service of the platform you’re working with but in general, the costs involved in a digital magazine are significantly lower than a print equivalent - while the benefits can be much greater – print doesn’t support key digital tools like data insight and video, after all.

Options exist on a spectrum that is measured by how much time, effort, money and so on that you want to put into the product. A more complex offering with multiple components will require more input obviously. Putting your audience’s needs and appetite first will help you assess what’s needed.

This range can also help you to calibrate the most ROI from your content. If you produce a straightforward pageturner, you get a simple asset that can be used easily even by those who are lukewarm about digital media. If you write a suite of stories and produce multiple types of content – for instance, video, webinars, social posts and blogs – you are able to use it all across multiple platforms and therefore reach more people or those with higher expectations.

Digital magazine options 

Pageturners and flipbooks (such as PageSuite and FlipSnack respectively, although there are plenty more of both) offer an inexpensive, traditional approach and they often represent direct translations of existing print magazines to a digital form.

They tend to support the fewest features, but this also means there are fewer things to ‘break’ and fewer demands on bandwidth in the first place. While they are less popular options today, they still have their uses and should not be automatically overlooked.

Microsites, meanwhile, are simple websites where you can post your content, optimised for search naturally, that are great for growth-oriented strategies. They can be indexed by Google, with all the benefits that includes, and they can be found online when people search for key terms. The microsite can stand alone or act as an offshoot of your regular website. If it stands alone, you have to consider the impact of splitting your audience away from your main website. The user journey will need some thought.

Apps can provide a fun and distinctive way to present content but, as with any app, this option requires a more active commitment from the audience. They must not only download and install it, but regularly open it too. If you can update the content regularly and communicate these updates across social media, web and email newsletters and app alerts, you will encourage your audience to revisit the app and check out what’s new.

How can digital magazines fit into my content strategy?

Consideration needs to be taken about how digital magazines support any other content marketing activities.

One of the benefits is that they maintain your branding and offer a familiar structure to your readers which is particularly useful if you are making the transition away from a well-established print title.

Of course, when it comes to marketing digital magazines, a passive approach won’t work and your digital-only magazine has to compete with multitudes of other digital content. To succeed, it needs to be closely aligned with your brand’s USP. What do you offer that everyone else doesn’t? You will naturally want to examine this closely and work out how this meets the needs of your audience while fitting into the requirements of your brand.

Leveraging your brand’s communications channels is also essential. If you create a digital magazine with quarterly updates, for example, a multi-platform communications strategy to let people know about it will be required. Never assume that your audience will just remember that new content is arriving on any given day because they almost certainly won’t. It is also necessary to remember that many people disable push notifications, so relying solely on them is short of the ideal too.

A marketing campaign to announce each new publication is especially important until the rhythm or routine is developed for the audience.

As Dialogue’s Jess Bennett noted in her article Types of loyalty marketing,

“It’s a well-known fact that nurturing your existing customer base encourages them to spend more with your brand and is easier than recruiting new customers. The Harvard Business Review discovered it costs businesses between five and 25 times more to gain a new customer than it does to sell to an existing one.”

Case study: Gazelle magazine

There are plenty of helpful precedents of businesses succeeding with digital magazines. For example, Amazon, Cosmopolitan, Mercedes-Benz and Vogue all use JooMag, while Red Bull, Tesco, Subaru and Patagonia use Issuu.

One example of a successful digital magazine is Gazelle. A monthly print title founded in 2014, this women’s lifestyle magazine quickly developed a national audience. The obvious next step was establishing a digital presence too and adding interactive features was a priority. The prospect of having analytics data to work with had a major draw as well.

They turned to Joomag. An all-in-one digital publishing platform, California-based Joomag offers interactive content creation, multi-channel distribution, performance tracking and monetisation – exactly what Gazelle needed and everything that their smart, savvy audience would expect in a modern lifestyle brand.

A steady but economical programme of transitioning to a digital magazine and then upgrading it followed, with analytical tracking of every step of the way and a regular email campaign to let readers know when a new issue had dropped.

The results were impressive: total page views quadrupled, reader retention rose by 28% and the average time spent per visit was an enviable six minutes. Behind the scenes, Joomag’s analytics data provided essential insights that informed the content offering and helped encourage further growth too – a textbook virtuous cycle.

Today, Gazelle has made the jump from print-based start-up to successful multi-channel digital operation. This same pathway to progress is open to a great many other brands too and the modern audience has even come to expect it as standard, so this example offers a compelling case study of just what digital magazines can do for you.

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