Choosing a digital-magazine supplier starts with the publisher having a clear understanding of current needs and long-term goals. Is the purpose simply to get a digital edition up and running online to displace the cost of print? Is it important to expand the advertising opportunities and grow the audience with rich media experiences? Or is it important to be flexible and “future-proof”—prepared to deliver enriched digital content on emerging output channels?

The digital magazine industry has matured in the last couple of years, and the number of suppliers has grown. Hundreds of solutions are on the market today, ranging from posting a simple PDF online or a page-flipping brochure-type of publication at the low end to top-of-the-line products with all the rich media bells and whistles and flexible formats available from full-service suppliers.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a publisher simply converting print content into a PDF or page-flipping digital brochure. It’s not a particularly exciting product, metrics can’t be tracked and reported to advertisers, and the content probably won’t be available to search engines. For a publisher with a small budget and few expectations, though, it can be a start. But it is what it is, which is not much.

A publisher that plans to begin with a very simple solution, though, should think ahead. Publisher needs, and particularly the opportunities available, could be quite different in just six months or a year. So it generally makes sense for the publisher to select a vendor—a partner—that can meet or exceed current expectations and grow as the next steps in digital magazine publishing occur or are invented—especially considering the reasonable cost of service.

Prices for converting a print magazine to a digital edition range from zero for free services (Warning—you get what you pay for!) or a few dollars per page for a simple conversion to an average of $1,000 to $1,500 per issue for a full-service partnership with a high-end supplier. The difference per unit between the endpoints of the range is minimal in terms of cost but significant in terms of service.

Below are three basic areas of need and/or interest to consider as you go therough the due diligence of selecting a digital-magazine partner:

1. Full-service or self-service. A full-service partner provides the digital magazine, along with rich media options, tracking and reporting services, marketing services, and consultation on circulation- and revenue-enhancement strategies. A self-service solution might work if the publisher has staff with the time, talent, and expertise to produce a digital magazine in-house.

2. Digital rights management. Should the digital magazine be open to the world or locked down in one way or another? The answer to that question will influence whether a simple solution might work or whether it requires the expertise of a supplier who understands the wide variety of DRM capabilities that are available. 

3. Rich media enhancements. Enhancing a digital magazine with rich media to appeal to advertisers requires energy and expertise; examining those needs will help determine which type of supplier is best.