10 tips for effective digital magazines

Digital magazines are beginning to move up the priority list of many publishers.  Partly a backlash from free online web content, but largely driven by the growth of mobile devices, not least the ipad.  There is a special quality to a carefully designed and packaged magazine, a curated, guided experience rather than the random meandering on a typical web-site.  Traditional print publishers are exploring digital editions as options for international subscribers or simply readers who want instant access.  Most suppliers are soon going to find a cost-effective solution to the flash vs html5 apple device issues.  However, a simple facsimile of a print edition misses the point – they are hard to read on screen, and impossible on mobile devices.  I’ve been working with a niche b2b publisher and researching some examples of best practice in digital magazines on a limited budget: here are my top 10 tips for an effective digital edition:

1. Compelling covers

The lost art of great covers can be rediscovered in digital magazines – creating a package custom-designed for the audience, and teasing them with great cover lines.  Covers can be designed as an opening spread rather than a lonely portrait page (see point #2).  See this Pharmaceutical digital mag for a great example of a cover spread.

2. Design as landscape spreads

Laptops are landscape, and readers will view a spread at a time.  So don’t organise your content in individual pages.  Run headlines or graphics across the spread, and even consider columns that run across the (now defunct) centre fold.

3. Easy navigation

Let readers click through from teasers to stories, or even have a permanent contents page that sits outside the main editorial content, as in this chromatography mag.  Design buttons to take readers through to related stories in the same edition.

4. Easy reading

Break up stories and include bold subheads so readers can quickly scan to understand the topics.  Then stick to shorter articles, at a type size that means no need to zoom.  Some publishers, such as K9 Media create internal scrolling bars to display a longer story.

5. Link to your website

If a story needs 1000 words, then just put a summary on the digital magazine and add a link back to your website for the full version.  This can also provide background on related articles from your archive, or other background information.

6. Video

Video sets digital magazines apart from print, and can be invaluable for interviews, demonstrations or to communicate the flavour of a place or event.  K9 Media uses video in its digital magazines to show dog behaviour.  Just take care that videos don’t auto start with sound in case your reader is browsing in a public place or office at lunchtime.  And watch out for the fact that flash doesn’t work on apple devices.

7. Audio

World music magazine Songlines includes snippets of tracks from its featured artists in its free sampler edition.  You can even buy them via Amazon (see #8 bel0w).

8. Buy the product or find out more

Include links on product reviews that take the reader directly to a special offer to buy or to find out more.

9. Provide interaction

Ask for feedback, run surveys, polls and competitions to get instant information on your readers.

10. Watch your file size

Don’t get carried away with techno-trickery.  Some readers may be viewing on old machines with slow internet access.  If your pages take ages to load, they are likely to lose patience.  Wired mag gets lots of praise for its ipad edition in techie circles, but it’s 500MB and can take an hour to download…

I’m in the throes of planning my own digital magazine for the Specialist Media Show, so I’m going to adopt these tips myself.  Some other good resources – an article from Zmags on design hints, and Peter Houston’s flipping pages blog.  Watch out also for the winners of the Digital Magazine Awards this autumn for some more inspiration.

Any feedback on good practice on digital magazines, please comment below, or join the debate on the Specialist Media Network on Linked-in, where over 350 specialist media people swap ideas and contacts.

About the author: Carolyn  Morgan runs Penmaen Media, a consultancy advising media owners on how to profit from digital media and marketing. She is also content director for the Specialist Media Show. If you’d like an informal discussion about how you can develop new revenue sources for your specialist media business please contact Penmaen Media for a chat.