How to Start a Profitable 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 down to the most niche areas.
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 well-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.
Is There a Difference between a Blog and an Online Magazine?
There used to be a big difference, but the gap is narrowing.
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 a simple 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. A good example is
Why Is Online Magazine Publishing Booming?
There are many reasons for the explosion in online publishing:
- A realization that anyone with specialized knowledge or expertise can make money online
- 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 and affiliate marketing
- Improvements in search technology and algorithms, which has resulted in niche sites being indexed and given high page ranking
- An inevitable and unstoppable migration of printed content onto the Internet
- Content creators want to deal directly with their audiences, without having to go through third parties such as publishers, record companies and agents... and they can!
Running an online magazine is one of the simplest businesses available to entrepreneurs and small businesses.
How Easy is it to Set Up an Online Magazine?
It is very easy to start publishing content on the Internet.
There are just a few bits of functionality you need to be sure your website has to turn into a successful online magazine with the potential of making
money from advertising, subscriptions or ecommerce. The most important are:
- a content management solution (CMS) which gives you complete control over adding, editing and updating the content
- flexible design interface so you can give the site its own look and feel to suit your content and personality
- payment processing to enable you to take payments for downloads, advertising, subscriptions, products or merchandise
- a member database so you can capture your customers' details
- the ability to add new functionality as you need it. This could include commenting, a forum, events calendar, polls and surveys, or email
How Much Does It Cost?
If you have a website built from scratch expect to pay upwards of $10,000/£7,000.
However there is a much cheaper option. If you use a managed service like SubHub (www.subhub.com) you will get a ready-to-go solution which costs from $127 month
for everything you need. Sites built on a platform are quick to launch, easy to upgrade and offer great support. This is a very good way to get started.
Online Magazine Start-Up Checklist
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 article
- 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 with a wealth of expert information 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. You want your magazine to have the same title as domain if possible.
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,
A good way to do this is to start with only one revenue stream, but then introduce 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, help you anticipate how much you need to spend to launch and, most important, anticipate 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 so it doesn't get left behind.
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. External contributors will also help you generate links and affiliations with other sites.
Write the Background Content Pages
Every website has some background content 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, to have ready for the launch.
Design the Website
Sketch Out the Layout
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 The Telegraph (www.telegraph.co.uk),for example:
The best format for an online magazine is masthead at the top, the menus underneath (for different topics) and then a selection of the latest and best articles.
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. The best place if you have many topics is in the left column. If you have only a few topic headings it is possible 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.
Having been in this industry for more than 10 years, I would recommend that you don't try to manage your website yourself. Managing servers, bandwidth, data logs, software upgrades, security and much more can waste a huge amount of time. For most people it is a chore and headache they can do without; they already have enough on their plate with creating readable and engaging content.
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. Many magazine, for example, have seasonal issues for spring and winter and want to change their design slightly to fit this.
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)
Once the background content is in place, it is time to begin adding 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 (which I hope you are!) 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. Other systems like Authorize.net or SagePay are also good choices. 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
Test all of the links
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 insecure.
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!