In some ways, starting a magazine today is easier than ever. But in others, it can be more difficult. All of this is due to the internet. The web puts free information at everyone's fingertips, instantly available through mobile devices, which has transformed the magazine industry. It also gives every person online the opportunity to create high quality content and express themselves to a wide audience.
In this beginner's guide, we will discuss how to start a magazine online. The guide is broken into three stages, outlining the work that happens before, during and after production. The first stage is brainstorming, followed by creation and collaboration, and finally, distribution. There's a lot to cover (no pun intended), so let's dive in.
Before production: Brainstorming
1. Develop your business plan
Before writing a single word for your magazine, sit down to develop a business plan. This includes your mission (the reason why your magazine should exist), your goals, and how to attain them.
Important questions to consider in your plan:
- What is the concept or focus of your magazine? This should be brief and concise, like an elevator pitch. For example, take a look at this copy from TIME magazine's "About" page:
- Which topics will you cover, and in what depth? Consider your tone & voice—there is a big difference between The New Yorker and OK! Magazine, and you should be consistent.
- Who is the primary audience? Remember, your magazine should speak to others, not just yourself. It's also important that your audience has a "continuing need" for your content, so they'll want to subscribe and read more. Think about your audience's lifestyle, and cater to the issues and ideas they care about.
- How will the first issue be funded? Many magazines earn profit by selling advertising, but it can be hard to attract advertisers at first. Some suggest using personal capital to fund the first issue—raised by saving money, seeking investments, or leveraging the power of crowdfunding.
2. Research the landscape
There are lots of magazines out there already, both digital and in print. Now is the time for you to spend some time at the newsstand (or in your reading app of choice) to evaluate the competition. This will give you a better idea of what's already being covered and how you can differentiate your publication. It can also reveal gaps and opportunities that are currently not being met in the market, which you can use to your advantage as you develop your magazine concept.
3. Build your team
A magazine is a heady endeavor, one that you shouldn't undertake alone. Build your team and divide your workload in order to prevent burnout and deliver faster, better results. Your magazine will be stronger for it. Here are a few staff roles you might want to consider.
- Writers — Magazines are driven by great content, so of course you'll need great writers to make it work. Maybe you keep it in-house with a few trusted authors, or maybe you reach out to freelancers to submit pitches. Either way, be clear with writers about your editorial expectations and whether you're offering any compensation for their work.
- Editor — At the end of the line, there should be one pair of eyes to give each piece of content the final yay or nay. The head editor ensures consistency and quality by reinforcing your editorial standards. This includes tone of voice, grammar, mechanics, and even the reach and scope of each article. When you have a strong editor at the helm, the finished magazine will be polished and cohesive.
- Sales manager — If your magazine will feature advertisements, a sales manager is indispensable. This person will serve as the point-of-contact for advertisers who will pay for space in your magazine. Having one person available to address their questions and concerns will help you build a better relationship with them, which in turn will lead to higher, more sustainable profits.
- Marketing manager — Your magazine needs advertising, too! A marketing manager will work to get attention for your magazine, making sure it's present in all the right places. For example...
If you're launching a magazine in print, you'll need distributors in bookstores, newsstands, and other public places. If you're launching online, there are many channels for you to explore, from search engine ads to social media. Part of this person's responsibilities will be deciding which distributors and channels are best for your magazine, and then creating materials (press kits, promotional content, etc.) to support them.
- Publication manager — Here is someone who gets down to the nitty-gritty of publication. This person will help you choose a printing partner who meets your needs, both in terms of quality and budget. What will the paper cost? How do the colors look? Are there any errors in the finished product? A publication manager will focus on these seemingly minor details that, in reality, make a huge difference.
- Partnerships / groups — These are helpful connections who aren't necessarily part of your team, but can steer you in the right direction. Partnering with relevant brands can bring more exposure to your magazine, as they share their audience with you. Certain groups made up of local or indie magazines exist to share advice and opportunities with one another, harnessing power in numbers. Take a look around in your community and introduce yourself.
During production: Creation & collaboration
Now it's time to start creating content and collaborating with your team. This can be a very hectic time, but it's where the magic happens. If you're inspired to publish your own magazine, you're likely familiar with the following steps—but let's review them anyway.
Finally, time to create articles for your magazine. Depending on its concept, this might mean a few different things: fiction or non-fiction, short stories, journalistic articles, how-to guides, reviews, or even a blend of all of the above. This step encompasses the writing process, from conception to pitch, and from researching to drafting.
It's not uncommon for articles to undergo more than one round of revisions. Far more than just catching style and grammar mistakes, editing will help the writer focus and elevate their writing. Editors can help with fact-checking as well. Together, writers and editors cooperate to make an article the best it can be.
After an article has been written and edited, careful proofreading is required to ensure quality and accuracy. Any typos or errors that made their way through the writing process will be squashed here. Unlike editing, proofreading is not an evaluation of the article's style, tone, organization or effectiveness. The focus is solely on finding and eliminating errors, so the finished product reads professionally. The person who proofreads might very well be the editor too, but these are still two separate stages of production.
7. Graphic design
The way we enjoy magazines is different from how we consume a book or a newspaper. Although each of these publications provides information, magazines in particular are known for being visual. From elegantly gorgeous to colorfully flashy, magazine design runs the gamut. Your graphic designer is just as responsible for your magazine's tone and feel as your writers are—if not more so. It's important for your graphics to match your words. Remember, magazines are less about the information and more about the lifestyle.
Stock photos are okay here and there, but they're no substitute for custom photography. Rather than searching for pictures to match your vision (and often, settling for less), a photographer can work with you to capture the pictures you really want. Color, lighting, subject, quality... All of these photo elements contribute to the reader's perception of your brand. After all, that's why they say a picture is worth a thousand words. (Or, at least, it's why we say it.)
9. Make a prototype
Just like with any product, you can't mass produce until you have a definitive, finalized version. All of the content, words and images are firmly locked into place with no errors or further changes. Holding your first finished prototype (whether in your hand or on a tablet) is a proud moment. Savor it! You've put in a lot of work to get here, and there's still work to be done. You are now ready to start sharing your magazine with the world.
You probably created your magazine using computer design software, but that doesn't mean your file is ready to distribute. Different publishers and reading apps have their own standards in terms of file type, size, quality and so on. Make sure you've researched and complied with those standards in order to prevent delays.
After production: Distribution
11. Find a printer
Your printing partner is a critical ally on your way to distribution. If you're only hosting your magazine online, well, you're off the hook on this one. But if you intend to share hard copies of your magazine locally, regionally, or even nationally... you need a printer you can trust to deliver satisfactory results every time. Do your research, ask around, and interview printing partners until you feel confident that your pick is a good match.
12. Establish your online presence
Perhaps more than any other step, this is paramount to launching a successful online magazine. Your online presence can take many forms, from a website to a blog to social media channels, and maybe even all of the above. What's important here is building a community of people hungry for your content. People who share the lifestyle and values of your magazine, so they'll appreciate its message. Find out where those people are online, and make sure they can find you.
13. Decide whether to paywall
This is a tricky question in today's publishing world. If you paywall all of your content, it might be hard to attract new readers. But, you can't give it all away for free, either. Striking the right balance between paid and free content might look different for every publication, so experiment to see what works for you. A good place to start is sharing free content and article excerpts on your blog but charging a flat price or subscription for each magazine issue.
14. Build a community around content
Your readers can (and should be) be your best brand advocates. When you foster a strong community on your blog, forum, or social media pages, it gives readers a shared sense of belonging. Discussions are far more interesting when readers get involved, and they can provide you with inspiration and direction. Think about how you can use various types of content to delight your audience. Beyond the pages of your magazine, there are many opportunities. For example, you could start a branded YouTube channel to share vlogs and other video content.
After months of work, you have started an online magazine, and you're on the track to sustainable growth and success. Once you get to this point, there's only one thing to do... Get started on the next issue.
Ready to begin?
Want to start your own magazine online? Lucidpress will streamline the design process for your whole team. With our intuitive drag-and-drop interface, you can select from gorgeous templates and customize with fonts, colors, shapes, images and more. Invite others to collaborate in real time, and when you're done, export in a variety of print-ready formats.