How to Create a Profitable Online Magazine
So you want to start an online magazine?
Publishing content for profit on the Internet is one of the fastest-growing areas of online business. New online magazines are being launched every day, covering every subject imaginable.
Some are started by print magazine publishers moving online, some by small businesses who see value in sharing their knowledge, but most are being started by individuals with specialist expertise or a deep passion for their subject.
What is an online magazine?
An online magazine is an Internet-based information site focused on a clearly defined subject area. Some focus on serving the business sector, while others target consumers. As with traditional print magazines, they tend to be a mix of news, opinion, feature articles, reviews, interviews and case studies.
What is the difference between a blog and an online magazine?
There used to be a big difference between blogs and online magazines and blogs, but the gap is diminishing.
Blog is an abbreviation of "web log," and that is what the early blogs were. They were simple chronological records of people's thoughts and interests. They were the equivalent of keeping an online diary.
As blogs have evolved, however, they have become more sophisticated in terms of both their content and their functionality. Many of the bigger blogs are now more like magazines, with multiple contributors, feature articles and sophisticated functionality. Good examples include:
- Smashing Magazine - www.smashingmagazine.com
- Engadget - www.engadget.com
- Techcrunch - www.techcrunch.com
- Mashable - www.mashable.com
Why is online magazine publishing booming?
There are many reasons for the explosion in online publishing:
- Cheap, easy-to-use online publishing tools that don't require any technical knowledge
- The low cost of reaching a global audience, which means that niche subjects can now attract big enough audiences from around the world to become profitable businesses
- Many new ways of generating money from content, including Google Adsense, sale of digital products and affiliate marketing
- A realization that anyone with specialized knowledge or expertise can make money online
- Improvements in search technology, which has resulted in niche sites being indexed and given high page ranking
- An inevitable and unstoppable migration of content onto the Internet
- Content creators (journalists, authors, experts, etc.) want to deal directly with their audiences, without having to go through third parties such as publishers, record companies and agents
Running an online magazine is one of the simplest businesses available to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
How easy is it to setup an online magazine?
It is very easy to start publishing content on the Internet. There are many free tools like Blogger (www.blogger.com) and WordPress (www.wordpress.com) that allow you to instantly launch a website. However if you want to run a serious online magazine with a customized design and multiple revenue streams you will need to invest it getting a professional site designed.
How much does it cost?
As mentioned the simplest solutions such as Blogger.com and WordPress.com, are free. You can be up and running in less than 30 minutes. If you have never published anything online before then this is a great way to get started without any costs.
If you decide to take your online magazine more seriously then you should invest in a professional looking website. You can still use free software such as Wordpress, Joomla or Drupal, but yiou should invest in a professional template or better still a customised design. Good templates start from as litte as $50 and customised design from $200. You can use freelancers from Elance or Odesk to get your site up and running.
At the top end you can pay anything from $10k upwards to have a online magazine built from scratch to your exact specification. When you're making $100k a year plus you may want to consider this, but that will take some time.
Online magazine start-up checklist
Let's move on to the practical stuff.
This checklist will take you through the top list of things you will have to do to set up an online magazine. Below the list is a bit more detail about each activity.
- Choose a subject- Research the competition- Decide on a business name- Buy a suitable domain name- Decide how your online magazine will make money- Write a business plan- Create a content plan- Write the background content pages- Create the first articles (or other content - video clips, podcasts, etc.)
Design the Website
- Sketch out the layout
- Plan the navigation- Create a design
Build the Website
- Identify the platform you will use
- Specify the website functionality- Add the design to the platform- Add the background content- Add the first articles- Implement payment processing- Integrate additional functionality
Launch the Website
- Test all the links
- Test payment processing- Test subscription and renewal process- Go live!
Details of the Different Activities
Choose a Subject
Before considering setting up an online magazine, you must be very clear about what subject area you are going to cover.
On the Internet, it is much better to be the best in a narrow niche area than to be a generalist on a broad subject. For example, it is better create an excellent site about fly-fishing in Scotland than to create a broader fishing site with only a few articles covering each area of fishing.
Research the Competition
Once you have an idea of your subject, check out who your competition will be.
To do this, simply type the words that describe your subject area into Google search and see who appears at the top of the search results page. These are your competitors! Are you confident that you can create a better online magazine than the best websites that you have found?
If the competition looks too tough, review the niche you are going to cover.
Decide on a Business Name and Buy a Suitable Domain Name
Once you have decided on the subject of your online magazine, it is time to choose a name. This will be largely determined by what domain name you can buy.
If your website will target an international audience, you should try to get an international domain name, e.g., one that ends in ".com" or ".net." If your website will target only a national audience, you can use a national domain name, e.g., ".co.uk."
If you are struggling to find a domain name, think about adding an ending to your subject, e.g., DollsHouseTimes.com, DollsHouseSpotlight.com, DollsHouseExpert.com, etc.
Decide on How Your Online Magazine Will Make Money
The best online magazines have multiple revenue streams.
They usually provide some free content and show ads alongside the articles; they have product and book reviews with affiliate links; they sell stuff through an online shop, such as ebooks, reports, DVDs and branded merchandise; they sell subscriptions to premium, members-only parts of their site; and they promote off-line events such as workshops, seminars, conferences, etc.
You may start with only one revenue stream, but plan on introducing more as your online magazine builds traffic.
Write a Business Plan
It is important to write a business plan. This will clarify your thinking, give you targets to aim for, and help you anticipate how much you need to spend to launch and, most important, when you will start making money.
Create a Content Plan
Once you launch your online magazine, you will find yourself very busy very quickly. Therefore it is worth creating a content plan for the first three months.
This involves deciding what sort of content you want on your site, e.g., regular news, features, interviews, case studies, etc.
Once you have made a list, decide how often you need to create each type of content. News items could be once a day, features once a week and interviews once a month.
Next, list possible article headings against each content type for the first three months.
Obviously headings will not be possible for such things as news, but make sure you allocate enough time for creating this content.
The content plan should also specify who will create the content and where the information will come from. At the time of launch you will probably be the only content creator, but you should aim to get external contributors as soon as you can to relieve your workload.
Write the Background Content Pages
Every website has some background content pages. These are known as functional pages.
Create the First Articles (or other content - video clips, audio, podcasts)
No site should launch without some high-quality articles or other content.
The first visitors to your website are important for building momentum. If they visit and there is nothing to read, they will never come back. I would recommend writing at least 10 really good articles, preferably more.
Design the Website
There are layouts and designs that work, and there are those that don't. The best way to understand what works is to look at the best online magazines and newspapers on the Internet and copy their format. Take a look at sites like:
- The Huffington Post - www.huffingtonpost.com
- Mashable - www.mashable.com
- The Telegraph - www.telegraph.co.uk
These are complex sites but will give you design ideas.
Plan the Navigation
The navigation helps users find their way around your website.
Navigation should be obvious, intuitive and consistent. Poor navigation is one of the best ways to lose visitors and therefore lose money.
The core navigation aid is the menus. These should appear in the same place on every page of the website. If you have only a few topic headings it is best to put them in a navigation bar across the top of the page, under the masthead.
Other navigation aids include text links, lists of relevant articles at the end of each content page and images.
Create a Design
Once you have a layout, it's time to create your design.
The design process is about choosing the colors, tone, personality, fonts and imagery that are most appropriate for your audience and subject. For example, if your website is about organic gardening, greens and browns are more appropriate than bright primary colors.
Images are important, but make sure they complement and enhance the content. Don't waste space on pointless eye candy.
Build the Website
Identify the Platform You Will Use
One of the most important decisions you will make will be which software or service you use to run your website.
The best software to start with is Wordpress as there are thousands of developers around the world who can help you build and manage your website. Spend time choosing a good design and development company as your life will be far easier if you can stick with the same people for the first few years. There are good freelancers on Elance and Odesk.
Specify the Website Functionality
An online magazine needs a few key bits of functionality.
The most important application is the content management system, or CMS. This enables non-technical people to add articles, images and other content to their websites without needing any HTML or development skills. A good CMS application is critical to your success.
There is a lot of additional functionality you could need depending on what you want from your website:
- If you want a newsletter, you will need an email newsletter application such as Constant Contact.
- If you want to take payments for products, you will need payment processing such as PayPal. - If you want to show videos or play audio clips, you will need a media player. - If you want to create a community, you will need a discussion forum.
If this all sounds too daunting, don't worry!
Just make sure that you choose a publishing solution that is flexible enough to add this functionality at a later date should you need it.
Add the Design to the Platform
Once you have chosen the platform and functionality, it's time to build your website.
Many platforms today allow you to overlay your design on your chosen layout using something called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). The advantage of CSS is that you can easily take one design off and put another design on without having to completely rebuild your website. This is particularly useful for an online magazine that is likely to evolve over time.
Add the Background Content
Once the functionality and design are in place, it is time to add the navigation and background content. With a good CMS this should be a quick and rewarding job. You will start to see your online magazine come alive!
Add the First Articles (or other content)
With the background content in place, it is time to add the interesting stuff.
Add the articles and any other content you have created. Check the grammar and spelling to ensure that you leave your audience with the best possible impression of your site.
Implement Payment Processing
If you are going to take payments you will need to integrate payment processing.
The easy route is to use a service like PayPal or Google Checkout. These all-in-one solutions are easy to set up and integrate.
However, I recommend that you also try to get a merchant service account from your bank so you can take credit card payments directly. This is because PayPal has a very poor customer service record and there are lots of horror stories about them freezing people's accounts without any explanation. This can be a real problem if PayPal is your only means of taking payment.
Launch the Website
It is very tempting to launch your site as soon as you have added your content.
It is crucial that you test all the links and functionality before it goes live. I have lost count of the number of sites I have been on where links are broken, the navigation opens error pages and the applications don't work.
If you don't do these checks you could lose potential customers for months without knowing it.
Test Payment Processing
Put your credit card details into your website and make a purchase so you can understand the process your clients will be going through. Does it work? Is it easy? Can it be improved? Does it feel secure?
On one site I worked on, 76 percent of all clients stopped the buying process when they were asked to put their credit card details into the website because they felt the form looked suspicious and unsecure.
Test Subscription and Renewal
If you take payment for subscriptions, this requires special attention because of its complexity.
When payment is made, an e-mail should be sent with the password for access to the premium content. Make sure the password works and provides access to the right content. You should also check the renewal process. Are reminders automatically sent to the customer? If they don't renew, is the password automatically disabled?
Test every possible scenario before going live with the site.
It is one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have when you finally make your website live to the world.
All the hard work and preparation will finally feel worthwhile.
And when the first money starts to roll in, you will feel even better!
Enjoy the moment and may there be many more ahead as you hit the targets you set for yourself in your business plan.
Good luck, and best wishes with your new business!
Alternatives to an Online Magazine
Online magazines require a lot of contant creation. Ideally you should plan on publishing something on your site daily. A lot of people find this too challenging and end up giving up before they have made any money.
The alternative is to create a content website which has content on which can be used over and over again by the target audience. This can be a database of information such as industry suppliers, or better still it can be an online resource such as PhraseHQ (www.phraseHQ.com)
The advantage of a site like PhraseHQ, which is an online phrase thesaurus targeted at anyone involved with creative writing, is that once the data is collated it has equal value in ten years time as it does today.
Therefore it is worth thinking about what 'evergreen' content you can create as part of your online magazine, or better still what website you can create which is just made up off evergreen content like PhraseHQ.
What about magazines on tablets and phones?
There has been a lot in the press about how the printed magazine will simply be replicated and published on tablets and smartphones. This format is sometimes referred to as page turners.
Over the last five years, since the introduction of the iPad, magazine apps sold through the iTunes store have proliferated. However they are costly to produce, Apple takes 30% of all revenues and they are hard to market. As a result already the number of magazines in the iTunes Newsstand has started to fall rapidly and publishers are resorting to publishing website magazines which re-format when accessed via a mobile device.
I believe this will be the future. As mobile broadband gets better, people will use fewer and fewer apps and start accessing content and services via their mobile browser. Therefore if you want to start an online magazine focus on the website, not on creating a magazine app.
The future of magazine publishing is on the internet. Printed magazines are in decline and will soon disappear completely.
Anyone can start an online magazine, but it takes some financial investment in a profesional looking website and a lot of investment in time to build a profitable online publishing business.
However once a site is established and is generating an income it is one of the best business opportunities in the world. You can work from anywhere and work the hours you choose without a boss!