How to start an online magazine

In 2018, over 42 percent of U.S. adults reported reading an online magazine in the last 30 days — a 15 percent increase from 2015 that shows no signs of slowing down.

An online magazine can be lucrative, but to succeed, you must cram it with valuable content that’s sufficiently distinct from a blog, then monetize it to achieve your earnings goals.

Publishing an online magazine can establish you as an expert in your field, and even generate customers for another business you already have, but you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and put in lots of hard work.

How an online magazine differs from a blog

Before you start an online magazine, it’s important to know what makes it different from a blog. There are three main differences between online magazines and blogs:

  • An online magazine publishes a batch of content weekly or monthly, while blogs publish one article or post at a time.
  • Blogs typically have a more conversational and informal voice than an online magazine.
  • Blogs are usually written by just one or two people, but online magazines publish articles from multiple writers.

To pull together all this content, you’ll need to find writers and compensate them, which can be a significant challenge at the beginning when you probably don’t have the funds to pay top rates.

Decide what your magazine will be about

Before you start looking for writers, you need to determine what the magazine will be about.

For example, if you’re using your online magazine to promote your business, you’ll need a topic related to the business but distinct from your company blog. It’s best to pick a subject you’re really passionate about.

Next, determine who your ideal audience is. Create a profile of your ideal reader and consider what they want to read about. If the goal of your magazine is to drive people to your business, then you already have an idea who you’re writing for.

At this point, begin to generate ideas for magazine articles. Research your competition, study the articles they publish, and conduct keyword research to see what people are searching for. This will help you write or source articles on the topics people are interested in.

Figure out how you’ll make money from the online magazine

An online magazine needs to generate revenue, but when you’re just beginning, this can be a significant challenge. Getting advertisers is difficult when you’re competing with Google and Facebook. Start by listing potential advertisers early in your planning, which will also help you refine your topic.

Subscriptions are a traditional revenue source for print magazines, but this is trickier for online magazines, especially in the beginning. If you put everything behind a paywall, or subscription service, it will be difficult to attract any readers.

A good model for a paid subscription is to offer plenty of free content but place your best content behind a paywall. That encourages people to share free content while tempting them to spend the money to get more of the content you’re producing.

At minimum, your online magazine can be the cornerstone of a larger content strategy for your primary business that increases public awareness to keep current customers while attracting new ones.

Find your team

When you’re first starting out, you might be writing most of the articles yourself, selling advertising to the list you’ve built, and setting up social media pages and online ads to send people to the magazine. However, you can’t do it alone and still produce a professional quality publication.

At the very least, you need an editor to review articles for grammar. You can likely set up a simple website to begin, but if you’re in this for the long term, you’ll eventually want a designer to create a professional website.

You can keep costs low by using stock photos and graphics for images. And people who want to market products related to your magazine’s topic are often willing to write articles for free.

Over the longer term, you need a team. An online magazine requires a constant stream of new content that no one person alone can manage. You’ll need writers and editors, an ad sales team, and a marketing team to expand awareness of your publication.

As your magazine grows and you sell more advertising, you’ll have the funds to source more articles and hire freelance writers, designers, and photographers.

Once you’ve got your topic, revenue model, and team in place, starting an online magazine becomes a matter of getting the website up and running, selling advertising, and publishing content. It’s essential to promote your magazine on social media and through the other channels available to you.

With a lot of hard work and hustle, you can turn your online magazine into a steady source of revenue.

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