Creating and launching a successful print or digital magazine takes many hours and a lot of hard work. However, it comes with great rewards in bringing together the excitement of creative expression and business, not to mention the opportunity to work with different people, from editorial to design and marketing.
While the world of print publishing has had to endure some losses and adapt to an ever-increasingly digital world, magazines are still and will continue to be a popular source of entertainment and knowledge. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start a magazine online and make it a big success!
- Online magazine publishing is hard work and involves marketing strategies and effort.
- With a large and complex project, it is important to break it down into a step-by-step plan to guide the process.
- You need to find out if there is a market for what you want to offer.
11 steps to create an online magazine
Developing a magazine from scratch is a challenging task. It is both a complex business and a major creative project that will require creative collaboration, business development and content strategy. With a large and complex project like this, it’s important to break it down into a step-by-step plan to guide the process.
Just as with writing an article, the research and planning required to start an online magazine is half the job alone. Writers must design a content summary, do their research and take every other step before they even start writing on paper.
It is much like the analogy of the tip of the iceberg. The finished article is what you see: concise, tidy and (hopefully) a pleasure to read.
This concept remains constant when it comes to starting an online website. While it is true that there are several technical steps you need to follow to get your website up and running, the research beforehand will be just as complex and time-consuming, if not more so.
2. Establish the basics: what is the setting?
The first step in starting an online magazine is to decide what it’s all about. You’re probably asking yourself questions like:
- What is the theme of the magazine?
- Is it a technology, fashion or travel magazine?
- Is it going to cover current events in a certain industry or review new movies and series?
- Will you use a magazine template or create your magazine from scratch?
- What are your business objectives?
3. Find out if people are interested
Once you have established the basics, you need to find out what you want to offer and whether there is a market for it. If not, it might be worth going back to the drawing board or adjusting your idea to suit the needs and wants of a potential audience.
Doing market research is a vital step in the creation of any product. Understanding your audience’s interests will be an ongoing process. You will have to constantly adapt your content to match your audience.
4. Develop a business plan
Once you’ve completed your research and have a clear vision of where it’s going, it’s time to develop a business plan (or business model).
A business plan is the foundation of your project. It will outline the goals and objectives you need for success. It should include:
- A mission statement. (Read more about Long Mission Statement)
- A description of what the magazine is about.
- Who will read it?
- How it will be marketed?
5. Name it and master it
Once you have established an address, it is time to set up a domain name. Your domain should match the name of your magazine.
Choosing a domain is sometimes the easiest or the most challenging part. Either you can change the name every five minutes (a common struggle for creatives and entrepreneurs) or you may have a name you like, but the domain is taken.
Decide who your target audience is and what you’re going to offer them. Google Analytics is a great tool for discovering information about your magazine’s readership. Imagine that you are eventually going to charge subscription fees to monetize your magazine.
In that case, you’ll need to offer your audience something they don’t already have access to, something they’re willing to pay for. You need to think through how you will differentiate yourself from your competitors.
7. Invest in start-up costs
First, let’s look at the costs involved in starting and managing an online magazine. We’ll address the complexities of monetizing the magazine later. It’s important to know that you’re spending a little to invest without making a profit yet.
If you’re going to create your website for free and promote it for free through social media, you won’t spend any money. Even so, it also probably won’t look and read as professionally as it would if you took the route of a paid app, sponsored ads or web designers. It all comes down to your budget.
In short, your core investments will involve:
- Magazine creation tools
- Domain subscriptions
- Social media marketing
- Creative work such as design and content writing
8. Choosing your tools
Aside from the obvious, paper vs non-paper, the biggest difference between a physical magazine and an online magazine is accessibility. Digital publishing is much more accessible than print because it allows more people to create their own magazines and a wider audience to access publications from anywhere in the world.
However, this is a good time to add that things may differ a bit here, depending on whether you are starting an online magazine, a digital magazine or a digital edition. As with domain names, you’ll need to research what you need and what your budget allows, and then you can decide on one from there.
9. Content creation
Now that the behind-the-scenes and administrative elements of starting an online magazine are under control, it’s time to move on to where the magic happens – the content. This is the core of your product, so it must be of high quality if it’s going to go anywhere.
Again, much of this will vary depending on the type of online magazine you are creating, as well as the size of your team, what your budget is and who your audience is. For this step, let’s assume your magazine is a small to medium-sized start-up, and you are outsourcing freelancers.
Your magazine’s focus, content plan and target audience will determine the writing style used in your articles and the type of writers you work with. A good idea is to create a style guide for your magazine.
These maintain consistency of content when you have a variety of contributors and connect with the audience through a tone of voice they learn to become familiar with. Research how your competitors write about your topic and find out what inspires you and how it will differentiate in terms of style.
Photography and graphics play an important role in the success of an online magazine.
The source of your images will depend on your budget. If you are limited, you will have to rely on your own photographs, those taken by someone you know with their permission, or those you have found online with legal permission to use.
The final part of the magic is the design and layout of your online magazine. Content, photography and design forms the holy trinity of magazines. When it comes to magazine design and magazine layout, it’s best to get it done by a professional.
The process of designing an online magazine is complex, and having someone on board with graphic design experience will be a real advantage.
If your budget allows, we recommend you to hire a professional right away as part of the initial process of creating your magazine. It’s said that we eat with our eyes, and the same goes to the content we read: if something is visually attractive, we’ll read it.
10. Making money
Finally, back to money. Now it’s time to make some income. Once your magazine is up and running, you’ll want to start generating some profits. “Financial success means that a magazine has established an audience that finds it interesting and useful, and that a magazine format is an effective way of communicating its particular message” (1).
While earning money through print magazines was much simpler, it was also limited. Online and digital magazines can use many potential revenue sources, including digital ads, audio content, affiliate links and website banners.
Ads (but not too many)
The quickest route to creating an income stream for a new website is with advertising revenue. There are many types of graphical ads, such as banners, sponsored content or “native ads”, etc.
The Internet seems like a good channel, as could be television or print, for branding campaigns. But this does not rule out that at the same time it can be used as an excellent promotional platform, or as a suitable tool to reach segmented audiences through tactical direct marketing actions (2).
Get them to subscribe
Subscriptions are a traditional and popular advertising revenue for magazines, but they become more complicated with online magazines. If you put everything behind a paywall, many potential readers will look elsewhere. On the other hand, if your entire magazine is available for free, your readers have no reason to pay a subscription fee.
The trick is to find that optimal point somewhere in the middle when it comes to digital magazine subscriptions. One model that has proven to work quite well offers a lot of free online content, but only allows readers access to the best content behind a paywall.
11. Build your team
You have the opportunity to work with all kinds of people when creating a magazine. In the beginning, most content creators and entrepreneurs wear many hats. They’ll be marketers, accountants and writers all at once. But there will come a time when you’ll need to hire and outsource.
Starting an online magazine from scratch is a big step. Online magazine publishing is hard work and requires much more marketing effort and strategy than a normal blog post or social media post for a company profile.
The ultimate goal of many online and digital magazines is to eventually make a profit. The good news is that the journey can be very rewarding, both financially and personally. If you’re willing to work hard and make certain sacrifices, you have a potentially great road ahead of you.
1. Kobak, J. (2013). How to Start a Magazine: And Publish It Profitably. M. Evans and Company, Inc, 2002
2. Solana, D. (2005). Ads on the Internet. The new advertising . TELOS Magazine (Magazine of Thought, Society and Technology), 2005