Digital Magazines. Everyone thinks of something different when they hear this phrase. It seems like anyone can take a print publication, convert it to PDF and have a "digital magazine." The content is there, so why isn’t it compelling? The short answer is that subscribers have different expectations of digital media. With a wide array of information, including video and multimedia, provided free via the Internet, subscribers expect more from a digital magazine than static content. Ironically, most digital magazines are providing predominantly static content with the exception of the search and link functions. While this is a great start, it falls short of readers’ expectations and far short of the creativity needed to drive a digital magazine to reach its potential.

So, what are the best ways for a digital magazine to reach its potential? Just offering a digital product is only half the battle. The more complete answer requires an understanding of the readers’ needs and a passion for exceeding their collective expectations. You might start with an internal team review, or consult an expert. But in the end, each publisher must shape their digital magazine to powerfully exceed their readers’ expectations. This is what drives readership.

The most critical recommendations are, to add value to your digital subscribers’ experience, enable your readers to be more productive and to transform your digital magazine into the best content on the Internet. But, this can be a gradual transformation. Your subscribers may be demanding easily searchable content now. The most popular features of digital editions are the quick link index, the search function and the digital archives. Many publishers begin with a digital replica of their print edition, with some enhancements, and then gradually transform their digital edition into a full-blown multimedia experience.

If you are working with the right digital publishing partner, launching digital publications is easy. For the basic publication, you provide a print-ready PDF, the email list database and the notification email text. A good digital publishing company will provide you with a project manager to guide you through the process and answer any questions about which customized features and services you desire. Launching a digital publication requires a minimal time commitment if you choose the right digital publishing partner.

Through our experiences working with consumer and b-to-b publishers, we have learned which programs and practices are the most successful in building digital edition readership. Here are some of the basic steps that every publisher should take to maximize the readership of their digital editions:

  1. Provide creative delivery notification. Create customized e-mail notifications designed for your audience. Use a creative template, editorial teasers and "deep links" to featured articles.
  2. Send a delivery reminder. Send an e-mail reminder to subscribers who have not opened their notification within 3-5 business days after delivery.
  3. Grab the "low-hanging fruit". Send several digital issues annually to existing print subscribers for whom you have e-mail addresses. Provide a "one-click" link enabling readers to select digital editions as their preferred delivery method.
  4. Implement "instant first issue delivery". Instantly deliver the first issue to readers who complete your on-line subscription or qualification form. On the confirmation screen, ask users to add the "from" address to their address book to ensure future issue notifications are not placed in the "bulk" folder.
  5. Provide digital samples. Place an ad promoting digital editions on your home page. Link the ad to a digital sample of the publication that includes a blow-in card subscription offer. If you offer more than one publication, create a "global sample" page with a promotional copy of each magazine.
  6. Promote digital editions on your website. Provide equal promotion of print and digital subscriptions. Place both offers in the same location, promoting both mediums equally.
  7. Connect your content. Provide direct links to the digital edition page when the same article is available on your HTML web page. This enables users to see the paginated article and graphics in a high quality format, while cross-promoting digital editions.
  8. Use Print ads. Place regular ads in the print edition that convey the features and benefits of digital editions. Provide the URL for a sample of the current issue.
  9. Provide editorial support. Periodically mention the features and benefits of digital editions in your editorial content.
  10. Cross-promote digital editions through your e-newsletter. Promote digital editions in your e-newsletter with a link to a sample editions and a subscription form.
  11. Promote digital editions through your Tradeshows. Send digital editions that include a blow-in subscription offer to all pre-show and post-show attendees of your tradeshows or events.
  12. Provide advertisers with a Digital Media Kit. Provide advertisers with a Digital Media Kit illustrating unique digital advertising options such as multimedia ads, digital blow-ins, sponsorships, etc.
  13. Single copy sales. Offer digital single copy sales of current or back issues on your web site. This captures reader interest and improves customer service while it creates a new form of revenue.
  14. Lead Generation. Enable send-to-a-friend functionality. By using controlled pass-along of special issues with promotional subscription blow-in offers, you can organically grow subscriptions. In addition, use digital editions for cost-effective marketing programs and sampling. Use unique re-directs to digital edition URLs for one-click lead generation programs with built-in tracking.
  15. Advance copies. Send advertisers, prospects and publicity agents early copies highlighting any editorial mentions. Use "direct links" to pages of interest for one-click access.
  16. Use Tracking Reports. Take advantage of the built-in tracking and reporting programs offered by some digital magazine companies, to determine the most popular articles, advertisers, and sections of your magazine. Adjust your editorial style and coverage accordingly.
  17. Engage readers directly. Some digital edition companies can integrate surveys directly into the digital magazine page. Use the survey system to ask readers about "hot topics" and to acquire instant feedback. Add a "write to the editor" button to encourage a reader dialogue. This constant reader engagement increase reader satisfaction and keeps readers involved with your brand.

Whether you launch a basic digital edition or you reinvent your digital publication, these steps will optimize your digital edition program. In today’s instant gratification culture, publications are living and dying by reader engagement, and digital editions are the most powerful platform to build engagement today and tomorrow.

Martin Hensel has worked in electronic publishing for 20 years and is widely known for his expertise in developing innovative publishing programs and platforms. He is president and CEO of Texterity, Inc. (, the fastest-growing provider of systems and services for the creation, delivery, and tracking of digital editions of magazines. The company serves a wide range of publishers in the consumer and trade categories, including PennWell, Dow Jones & Co., Time, Inc., Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines, Penton Media, CMP, Ziff Davis Media, and Meredith. It is privately held and headquartered in Southborough, MA.