An Expert’s Guide on Starting a Digital Magazine

digital-magazineJacqueline Carlisle is the Editor-in-Chief for Thinkmag, digital online glossy focused on sustainable design and wearable technology. In this article, she outlines her secrets and tips on how to start a digital magazine.


How a Digital Magazine Was Born from a Vacation

Believe it or not, I never wanted to started start a digital magazine. I was working for an independent online magazine for a number of years and I loved it. It was my dream job! I worked my way up to Editorial Director, and then 9/11 happened and the media hemorrhaged liked a stuck pig. I was out of a job almost overnight.

I was leaving the country for Christmas on a non-refundable ticket and no job prospects to come back to. I was mourning the loss of my dream job and I didn’t know what step to take next. Going on holiday was the last thing I wanted to do, but I left anyway on my non-refundable ticket and I was determined not to have a good time.

But, in the darkest times, you can always find the light. The same message kept coming from various people: “Start your own magazine.” At first, I kept saying, “You’re crazy! Do you know how much money is needed to start a magazine?” But little did I know, the media was already experiencing a tectonic shift, and social media was that disruptive shift.


The Social Shift that Made it All Possible

Social media shook the very foundation of established publishing houses–so much so that Conde Nast started purposely folding magazines to streamline budgets and Vogue editors were told, “No more town cars for you, take the bus!”  Here, I was a small cog in the wheel being encouraged to launch a magazine. Out of necessity, I launched digitally. I knew that it would be a lot cheaper to launch digitally with an eye towards print in the future.

I launched the magazine on a shoestring budget in a niche market and I never looked back. I was able to work out a lot of the kinks a new publication can have without cementing it in print. I quickly got to work with contributors all over the world without having to spend a lot on traveling. I even Skyped in for a cover being shot in Spain! Digital was the answer. It was fast, cheap, innovative, and, furthermore, it was part of an industrial revolution I never saw coming.

My digital magazine gave me an edge on the internet. To my surprise, advertisers and collaborations found me. I couldn’t believe it (and I still don’t), but it was happening. I had created a publication that was being recognised by large organisations, whom I respected and admired. I had created a highly identifiable product in a niche market that was growing and it was an absolute joy.


How YOU Can Make it Happen Too

I encourage anyone who wants to stand out from the millions of blogs out there to start a digital magazine with an additional blog. I know it may sound like a lot more work, but if you love publishing and you love creating content, a digital magazine doesn’t have to be more work if you’re organised and ready to publish. So, here are a few tips to get you started, many of which helped me a lot when I first launched my magazine.


1. Editorial is Key

Before you begin to publish, create an editorial calendar for a year’s worth of issues. I wanted to know exactly what it was going to look like so I could continuously create great content. At the time, my blogs weren’t as important and I had time to update 4 per week in real time (shocking but true). But life changes and, knowing what I know now, an editorial calendar for all your content is paramount if you want to create a magazine with a strong identity.

Once you decide what type of magazine you wish to create, pitch designers of your choice for articles. Tell them you’re starting a magazine and they will be featured on your publication. In your first initial contact send a prospectus so they know the type of magazine they will be featured in. You’d be surprised to know that they will send you all the immediate information required for you to create an article.


2. To Be A Digital Monthly Or Not?

Whether it’s a digital magazine or not, it has to run like a machine. A magazine should publish at the same time every time, so use deadlines to stay on track. If you haven’t had experience with running a magazine, you must decide whether your magazine is going to be published monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, or yearly. Those are your options.

I would suggest starting out slowly and building up from there. If you start at the top and try to publish monthly only to find that you can’t keep up, the only direction you will go is down…and it can unravel very quickly. If you decide to publish bimonthly, pick a date when your magazine is online. This will also help you to start a routine of getting the issues online on a specified date. Try to even give faux deadlines to your contributors too. You can’t rely on people to always submit on time, so a faux deadline will give you a bit of time to play with.


3. Less is More

Whatever you do, don’t cram a lot onto a page. Reading online isn’t that easy, so make it fun for your viewer by opting for more images and less words. I know this may sound counterproductive, but you want your viewer to finish reading your article quickly and move on.

Viewers are fickle and they can lose interest quite quickly. Choose an article font that isn’t too small since this is about visual content. Remember that a viewer might check out your magazine on a tablet or phone too. Having less pages is definitely an advantage. I noticed repeat viewers return and look at certain issues repeatedly because it’s quick and easy to consume.


4. Treat Others Like You Want To Be Treated

I had a very small contributor team who wrote for my digital magazine and a variety of artists who created a few exclusive covers; but the person I came to rely on and who I called my No.2 was invaluable. She did the layouts, some of the graphics and uploaded the issue to my site. I respected and admired her focus and willingness to learn. We had an incredible working relationship, which soon became a very close friendship. Everyone that came on board was supported by me–not the other way round.

In the beginning, if you don’t have a budget to pay people, they will work for free if you show your appreciation for their efforts and not become a “diva”. I was humbled by how many people believed in my dream and I’ve never forgot it. A digital magazine can bring you a lot of wonderful attention, but it takes a village to publish. Get a good reliable team of people who want to see it happen and be grateful for their dedication.

Are you planning on starting a digital magazine? Comment below with some tips or tricks you've learned along the way with your process.

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About The Author

Jacqueline Carlisle is the Editor-in-chief and Creative Director of Thinkmag, an online digital glossy for sustainable living. Originally from England and currently living in Toronto, Canada, she was named one of the most inspirational people in 2015 by empowering women who are victims of domestic violence to live their dream life.

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  1. Monique

    This is great information I definitely want to go more the digital magazine route I feel like I would be taken more seriously.