16 tips for winning digital magazines

How are digital magazines changing?  As a judge for the 2012 Digital Magazine awards, over the last few weeks I’ve read (viewed?) twenty different digital magazines from around the world and seen how inventive publishers have been using the potential of tablets to inform, amuse and engage their readers (or should that be audiences?).

While I remain a strong advocate of smaller publishers starting out with simple replicas for mobile devices, once you have a little more confidence – and budget – there’s so much more that can be done when traditional magazine content meets mobile devices.  Here’s my top 16 tips for the ambitious digital magazine:

1.     Watch those download times

It can be really frustrating waiting 10 minutes or more to download a magazine, even on a fast connection, and more than once an issue was only partly downloaded, so I hit blank pages  half way through when I was reading offline later.

2.     Make your layout logical

The growing trend seems to be to have article opening pages arranged horizontally, with the article itself running vertically.  This is much easier for the reader than endless scrolling through sequential pages.

3.     Have an intelligent contents page

Several magazines have sections based on reader sub-groups to categorise contents – such as Parents segmenting by baby/toddler/primary/teens.  Plus have direct links from contents images.

4.     Offer landscape as well as portrait

Digital mags that only work in portrait are missing the chance for a more sumptuous visual layout.

5.     Keep the in-page navigation simple

Each magazine platform has its own idiosyncrasies, but make it clear to the reader/viewer how the added value content can be found.  Science et Vie Kids has all their extra content buttons highlighted in orange so they are easy to spot.

6.     Use scrolling text and columns

Pack more content into one screen with scrolling article copy; plus scrolling vertical or horizontal columns are great for quotes or news snippets.  Mac Format does this well.

7.     Try visual navigation devices

Test out new navigation options such as tapping on contributor pics to access quotes (Edge), or numbered step by step articles, or tapping on product pictures to read reviews.

8.     Include “behind the scenes” video

Parents magazine from the US has clips from their cute kid cover stars.

9.     Use video in step-by-step articles

Fitness First brings exercise routines to life with short video clips.  Mac Format does the same for tech tips

10. Ask questions and run quizzes to engage the reader

Science et Vie poses a series of questions that invite the reader to tap to reveal the answers, and has some addictive quizzes.

11. Provide more images

Either use scrolling to reveal panoramic pictures (Edge) or offer an extensive gallery (Asian Diver)

12. Think about how tablet is used

Just changing the display option is helpful to readers – eg Fitness First has “kitchen mode” for recipes with large text step by step.

13. Link to the web

EDGE links to the latest job ads from the Guardian website.

14. Include audio clips

Add quotes or interviews to articles to provide more insight – or music clips to reviews

15. Link directly to purchase

The Playroom reviews section in Parents magazine links to books and games sites to buy featured items instantly.

16. Think like a film director

The opening visuals of articles in POST Gravity feel more like cinema than publishing, creating an experience beyond flat images.

Overall, the DMA entrants seem to be edging away from the traditions of print publishing, and moving more towards factual TV or even cinema and commercials.  And allowing readers to decide the order in which they read elements of the article, and get involved with games and quizzes borrows more from the world of gaming than flat magazines or even TV.  Plus digital magazines can easily link to the web for news, latest jobs or buying featured products.  So they are quickly moving away from the restrictions of print and becoming interactive guides and navigators in their chosen topic.  More about the DMA winners and links here.

About the author: Carolyn Morgan works with niche publishers to develop practical digital strategies.  She regularly speaks and writes on digital publishing strategy, programmes the Specialist Media Conference and moderates the Specialist Media Network on LinkedIn, where over 1200 niche publishers swap ideas and network.  If you’d like a no obligation discussion about your digital publishing strategy, please get in touch.