Making a magazine is certainly a fun experience but it is also an intimidating project to take on. You can treat a magazine just like a business and the reality is most magazines fail. They take far more commitment and planning than any regular website and you gotta produce something decent. As promised this is my article on how to create and make a magazine and sharing my experiences in launching my first few and hope this article will be useful to anyone else wanting to launch a mag.
In this article
- #1 Tip for Creating a Magazine
- Why make a magazine?
- New Kid On The Block
- Magazine Content
- Monetizing your magazine
- Your Magazine Website & SEO
- Print vs Digital
- Magazine Tools of the Trade
- Resources: Books, Articles & Podcasts for magazine creators
- Final Tips for New Magazine Creators
Before I decided to make a magazine, I researched as much as I could on the topic. I read almost every book on magazine publishing and listened to a lot of podcasts. Although all of this research was helpful, I didn’t feel there was much of a coherent blueprint that you could follow start to finish. Some books do a decent job of covering all the aspects you’ll need to focus on but I always found a few things missing. At the end of the day, done is better than perfect and I’m going by my experience to share to you if you want to go down the path to publishing a magazine. I dive deep into everything done here at Commission Magazine but I’ll give you my number one tip right off the bat for anyone wanting to get started.
 #1 tip for creating a magazine
Create 1 demo magazine BEFORE you work on your number 1 magazine project. You can make a plan to do a single one off magazine and it is possible that this demo magazine could take a life of its own but your first magazine is probably going to be the one where you make the most mistakes. Here are some good reasons why I think a demo magazine is the best way to start:
- Gain the most experience, make the most mistakes
- You won’t let down any sponsors or advertisers if the magazine fails to launch
- Your first mag will take the most time, the 2nd one will go much faster
- No pressure
- You’ll have something to show to potential sponsors or content partners that you have experience and are serious
My first demo magazine is Houseboat Explorer and is based on a hobby I’m very passionate about which is houseboating. That magazine took far more time to produce and I learned all about the headaches of trying to find sponsors, chase down people for content, learning all the software tools and details on the graphics side of production. That magazine was tough because everything simply took longer, mistakes were always being made and it was nearly impossible to sticking towards any type of schedule. I can definitely say with confidence that the first issue of Commission Magazine went 2 to 3 times faster than Houseboat Explorer and with this being issue #2, I have the process more streamlined and I know issue #3 will probably be better and take less time than before.
 Why make a magazine?
This was one of the common questions I got at the very beginning as if the content could exist just on a website, like why waste your time? My counter argument and answer to that is like asking people why write a book, make a video or do a podcast? The answer is it is simply a different platform. Websites are the most common denominator in the game and anybody can make a website but not everyone can write a book, launch a podcast, make a movie or launch a magazine. There is simply more behind the scenes that go into producing something unique on a new platform. That uniqueness is what stands out. Just one example would be to imagine how many websites exist for runners and compare that with the number of magazines that exist for that niche.
Using one last analogy of comparing making a movie to making a magazine, a lot of work goes into the production where there is a single release date open to the world to consume, share, write about and talk about it.
- 7000+ magazines in the US [https://www.statista.com/statistics/238589/number-of-magazines-in-the-united-states/
- 550,000+ itunes active podcasts [https://appleinsider.com/articles/18/06/05/itunes-hosts-over-550000-active-podcasts-surpasses-50-billion-episode-downloads]
- 1.5+ billion websites [https://news.netcraft.com/archives/2019/01/24/january-2019-web-server-survey.html]
Incentives for creating a magazine
It is understood that the biggest incentive for anyone to make a magazine would be for money. Money can be a good reward to come out of making a magazine but in my research it helps to have a magazine that is built around passion first and foremost. It isn’t to say that you can’t launch something with money in mind but if you look at a lot of the niches that exist, passion seems to be the common denominator. I would also say to be devil’s advocate, any magazine that is business focused is inherently implied to be for monetary reasons.
Authority & Networking
By setting up a magazine, you are giving yourself a chance to separate yourself from all the other websites out there. Your advantage is your platform which can give you an edge as an authority on your topic and it also opens the door for networking.
My case and point will be using Nathan Chan’s Foundr magazine where he pitched Sir Richard Branson to be in his magazine. He lucked out and was able to score that interview and that put Foundr on the map ever since. Could you have imagined if Foundr was only a website and Nathan was asking for an interview? I’m sure Richard Branson gets interview requests all the time so if he is going to do any of them, he would probably pick something with the most perceived value. Being on a magazine cover is something that makes him look good and it is one more tool you can leverage with a magazine. In a world of influencer marketing, magazine covers are great at getting someone a platform to reach a bigger audience.
SEO: Link Building & Social Sharing
I’m going to give out a bit of a secret and shine a bit of light on some of my intentions with this magazine and others I have worked on. Simply put, a magazine is far easier to get a link for than it is for a website. We know that links can be a source of traffic but are also helping in ranking in Google. If we go back to that running magazine as an example, that magazine has a chance of networking with all those running blogs and websites that exist. If you do a search for “magazines for runners” then you’ll find some articles and lists. If you have a new magazine on running then it gives you a chance to contact that publisher to ask if your mag can be included in their listing. These listings are most likely not charging people because it is simply content so this is your chance to gain that link. Likewise your magazine has that extra element of shareability than a website/blog doesn’t have.
Just to point out, your magazine represents a chance for all those other people wanting a link too so that gives you extra leverage. For many people, that link alone is incentive enough to participate in your magazine, others will treat it like a bonus. Your magazine can also be a source of traffic for those people too so it is a 2-way street.
Yes you can certainly leverage your magazine perhaps better than just a website. If you have a product or service that you sell, you can self promote it. People either will want to advertise in your magazine or be featured in it with content AND if you play it right you’ll be able to offer them links for another added value. Most people know that by participating, the magazine could be positive PR for them as individuals or their company and your final carrot is being able to give them a link from your site to theirs.
 New Kid On The Block
Being a new magazine you’ll have some serious hurdles to overcome. Some people won’t participate not knowing what the final product will look like, let alone if they believe it will actually be published. Many advertisers will say no as they want to see it live first so did the chicken come first or the egg? Many will want to see your magazine established before they commit, just because, they at least want to know what your reach is and the value you can deliver. So if you are dependant on income, you might need to reconsider this as part of your plan.
For the first issue of Commission Magazine, I’ve had people reject content requests because they don’t know what they are associating themselves with. I’ve had many advertisers ask for numbers but a new magazine has no numbers to start. I was lucky enough to be able to bundle some ad packages but for the most part, you can use ads as bartering tools which is what I did to get the first issue launched so both parties benefit from it.
As a tip, you have to remember that companies get pitched for advertising all the time so regardless if they have the budget for your ads or not, they simply have to decide what is the best ROI for them. Don’t take it personally if you get rejected because most people want to see a finished product and some data to back it up before they commit to any ad spends.
 Magazine Content
This part seems easy but there is more to it than meets the eye. Content for this magazine at times can be challenging. The first thing required is outreach in order to get people to contribute either as columnists or to do interviews. There are a few situations that arise in trying to round up people for content;
- People decline
- People agree but don’t follow-up
- People agree but take too long
- People agree and the content is not worth publishing
Expect to get the most rejections at the beginning of the project and all types. Rejections ranging from people to participate & interview all the way to rejections from people to sponsor and advertise. I listened to quite a few podcasts with Nathan Chan talking about how he got Richard Branson to agree to do an interview with him. I did reach out to ask if Nathan wanted to do one and he is too busy. To be fair, I thought it was cool he replied to let me know. I tried a followup pitch but he wasn’t having any of that.
Not everyone is going to say yes to content even if your magazine gives them free exposure. It is all part of the game. Most people I ask agree but a few people don’t deliver while some are very late to the point where the content has to be used elsewhere or for another issue.
Content Not Worth Publishing
Without naming names, I’ve had some people send in articles or interview questions and they simply were not good enough to use. I do politely let these people know that I can’t publish their content as they took the time to participate but you don’t want to publish something that your peers will criticize or turn people off your magazine. In my first magazine attempt I did get one article sent in that wasn’t good but used it anyways. That was for a houseboating magazine and I needed content to get it done.
Being an editor is not easy. If you have writing experience then that works in your favour however you should get things edited as many times as possible, ideally before you get the content pushed into production. If you have friends with a good eye for editing then see if they can help.
 Monetize Your Magazine
This might be the toughest part about generating income for your magazine but it helps to look at what other magazines do to generate income. Your income models could include any of the following;
- Subscription service
- Patron donors/sponsors
- Affiliate Marketing
- Selling ad space
- Selling links
- Selling advertorials
Just a note when it comes to selling sponsored content, links and ads. In Google’s eyes you are supposed to nofollow your sponsored links and it seems they will now have a special markup for sponsored content where they ask you to use rel=”nofollow” or rel=”sponsored”. For more on that check out this article by MOZ: https://moz.com/blog/nofollow-sponsored-ugc. If you have learned anything from successful SEOs it is don’t listen to Google! Regarding selling advertorials, these seem to be more popular and common these days but you might alienate some of your users so, do at your own risk.
This sounds easy but subscription service means and implies your content is behind a paywall where you have to pay to access it. It could be good for getting loyal members but it might mean your content could become harder to be searched for if you publish your content anywhere online.
Patron Donors & Sponsors
I like how OffScreen mag does it, just go to their site at offscreenmag.com, add a magazine to your cart and look at your extra supporter options. You can buy a single issue but you can become a supporter for more and they aim to also add more value. Some people are just too shy to ask!
I’m sure you can find Amazon products to pimp out in your mag. Affiliate marketing offers one more avenue for getting value out of your magazine and possibly be something that generates recurring passive income.
Selling Ad Space
This is the standard, just need to define your standards. As a tip I’d recommend to either check out how your competition does it, or pick another industry with no competitors and just study how they do it and learn from them. You can sell any type of ad in your magazine and also sell banner ads on your magazine’s website.
Selling Links & Advertorials
Link sales are up to you along with advertorials but a quick word on advertorials. This type of content is seemingly becoming more integrated in magazines and other platforms and sometimes users can’t tell if content is sponsored or not. Users possibly care if your content is sponsored, although they might be less likely to read it knowing it was sponsored content too. Do at your own risk, aside from potentially losing some fans along the way, you want to be mindful of advertising laws locally as well as globally. You may want to consider marking your sponsored links as rel=”sponsored” and at least know that Google wants you to do this. Also keep in mind, I rarely hear anybody paying money for a nofollow link, just sayin’.
Crowdfunding Your Magazine
I have no experience in doing this but I do think it is something new magazine creators should consider. Crowdfunding can be treated as validating your idea so if you were doing a print magazine, you are almost asking ‘would you pay $20 for this magazine?’ so if you can pre-sell these then you have more or less validated your idea and built some support.
Some of the best known crowdfunding platforms are Patreon, Kickstarter, Indigogo and GoFundMe. You can always find space on your magazine for giving them credit.
 Your Magazine Website & SEO
Publishing Your Magazine Website Content on a Website
Without a doubt, the biggest mistake I see from other business magazines are they don’t share their content individually on a website. I can see why they don’t want to do that as if you do too much of this, your content starts to become more like a website than a magazine platform. My argument against this is that there is a lot of content that is no longer searchable in Google (hmmm, something about being the largest search engine) because it exists behind a wall that cannot be crawled. As someone that has often contributed to other business magazines, it is frustrating that my article wasn’t published on their site where it could have gained continuous traffic by ranking. The irony of this; I have seen other websites republishing this content, without permission, and they become the beneficiaries of MY content.
At Commission Magazine, I specifically setup the site such that all magazine content is published as a collection of articles to try to get the most value out of that content. When I republish this content on the website, I’m able to give links to all those people that helped create the content. This in turn is going to get all the good and bad people that will chase this magazine wanting to get a link and get involved in the content.
SEO For Your Magazine
For those that don’t know, SEO is short for search engine optimization. As more validation behind the idea of repurposing your magazine content on your website, I’m not the only one that does it this way. Pages SEO magazine does this and is possible they have done this before me. Their content is repurposed as blog posts and is not easy to find on their site but no doubt they are doing this to rank for the content that they already produced.
There you can see content that has been repurposed from their current issue. I mean they are an SEO magazine afterall so I’d expect good SEO practices by them.
By having a website in place, you can aim to rank for your brand keywords along with your topic keywords plus the word magazine in it. Your articles are valuable content and each article could be generating more search traffic to your site and pulling in more people that otherwise would have never heard about your magazine. You’ll want a website to talk about your magazine but to repurpose the content as blog posts can give you an additional boost in search traffic.
 Print vs Digital
Magazines these days are becoming digital. It isn’t to say that print is dead or ever will be but print is very expensive, requires heavy investment and is tough to measure anything. Many print magazines are moving over to digital only so it isn’t to say that print should be excluded but it helps to understand the trends. If you need a good excuse to ditch print, digital is better for the environment.
The other crazy part about print is all the factors that go into the costs. Extra pages always cost more, you can always spend more with improved quality of paper and last but not least, the cost per magazine drops significantly as you increase the number of magazines you print. So for example, 500 copies of a magazine might cost you $3000 to make but 5000 copies could cost you $4500. Then there is the logistics when it comes to shipping and storage which is a whole other animal.
If there is a single company out there I’d recommend based on research, it would be Heftwerk as they print, store and ship your magazines at fairly reasonable rates.
Print On Demand
A quick word on Print-on-demand, there are a few companies that do this and Blurb is possibly the most popular one. I used them once for the Houseboat Explorer magazine but it was hell having to take my finished magazine and get it resized so it would fit Blurb’s unusual sizing. I do think in the future, there will be better print on demand services so I’m hopeful that Blurb will improve in the future.
 Magazine Tools of the Trade
My top 2 go to tools for putting together this magazine are Sketch and Flipsnack. Sketch is a Mac OS design program that I use for designing websites and it is perfect for making magazines.
Flipsnack – a Magazine Flipbook Hosted Platform
Flipsnack is one of many digital magazine softwares and they can be often referred to as digital flipbooks. I found over 50 of these programs and although the most popular ones might be Zinio, ISSUU, Joomag, the one I recommend the most is Flipsnack. The software I find is easy to use, has a lot of flexible features and I didn’t find as cost prohibitive compared to some of the bigger ones. Every year there seems to be new players and some might be better but I find Flipsnack does a good job, has built in analytics and you could put together a magazine just using their editor and composer.
I’ve been using Flipsnack for almost 2 years and the software seems to be getting better and better all the time. I am also seeing more companies use Flipsnack and they are getting more mentions when it comes to directories listing all the magazine platforms around.
Sketch – the Best Design Tool Ever
Sketch is for Mac OS only and is about $100/year. There are similar programs like Figma that are free for testing and have low rates and work on many operating systems like Windows. At the end of the day, the programs do almost the same thing, they give you vector-based files and ability to export in high quality PDF files. I tried Adobe InDesign but I dumped the program very quickly, not only because the learning curve didn’t seem fun but because I felt I could do things better in Sketch and significantly faster.
 Resources: Books, Articles & Podcasts for magazine creators
Before I talk about all the resources that exist when it comes to helping people create and publish a magazine whether digital, print or both, here is my word of warning. Try not spending all your time researching as you’ll be a magazine expert with no magazine. I’ve spent as much time researching as I could before getting into my first magazine but I think just making my first magazine was really the steepest learning curve where I learned the most. That magazine was a one off on the topic of houseboating and you can view it at https://www.houseboatexplorer.com/. You can actually order an individual print copy as I used Blurb for a print-on-demand service and honestly the magazine quality is cool. My only negative comment on Blurb is their magazine sizes are way off from standards and it was a lot of extra work in getting my magazine formatted for their unique size. Print on demand service is cool but can’t use Blurb for their unusual standard magazine sizes.
- Publish Your First Magazine by Lorraine Phillips (https://www.amazon.ca/Publish-Your-First-Magazine-Second/dp/0988953544/ref=sr_1_4?keywords=publishing+magazine&qid=1568317881&s=books&sr=1-4)
- Make a Zine!: Start Your Own Underground Publishing Revolution by Joel Biel (https://www.amazon.ca/Make-Zine-Underground-Publishing-Revolution/dp/1621067335/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=publishing+magazine&qid=1568318260&s=books&sr=1-2)
- Podcast series by Stack Magazines (https://www.stackmagazines.com/update/podcast-podcast-magazine-publishing/)
- SPI 169: How Nathan Chan Built a 6-Figure Digital Magazine and the Marketing Strategies We Can All Use (https://www.smartpassiveincome.com/podcasts/digital-magazine-marketing-strategies/)
- At work with: Jeff Taylor, founder, Courier. Interview on Magculture.com (https://magculture.com/jeff-taylor-founder-courier/)
- Making Magazines by Subsail (https://subsail.com/blog/tag/making-magazines/)
 Final Tips for New Magazine Creators
Based on my experience, this is what I’d advise for anyone wanting to launch a new magazine.
- Create a demo magazine either in another topic or do a prototype so you can share with people and get feedback.
- Write a business plan. Include a breakdown of your projected expenses, content plan and marketing outreach strategy for driving traffic to your magazine. Get this plan peer reviewed as well.
- Create a media kit and list what you are selling for buyers to review.
- Ask for rights for photos and artwork. Be sure to explicitly ask every person for rights to publish digitally and in print when it comes to having artwork or photographs sent to you. In some cases, the person sending you the pics may need to request these rights from the photographer.
Pro tip: you can find royalty-free image sites like pexels.com if you need to source some images.
- Have an editor. Edit the shit out of your content and get a few people to proofread all the content you have to publish. It helps to do this before you start to assemble the magazine, just trust me on that. You don’t want to make changes and then all of a sudden your text becomes a little extra longer and no longer fits into the design you have. My personal preference and recommendation is not to edit someone’s work so much that it changes their “voice”, correct spelling, grammar and all of that but stop short of changing their actual words that they might commonly use.
Pro tip: when it comes to editing: I recommend using Google Docs for editing and sharing your articles and very specifically using EDIT MODE when you share with others to edit. I had one editor that edited the hell out of an article in a way I didn’t want them to edit it and I had to go through the article and undo all of their work because they didn’t follow my rules. Do it this way so you can accept or reject edits.
- Content, try to spend as little as possible but there are exceptions and depends on the nature of your magazine. If you have a business focused magazine, anybody that participates as a columnist or does an interview, they are getting some benefit out of it and most of the time these people don’t ask or expect to be paid for their work. There are a lot of people out there that would want or expect to be paid so this becomes your call. When it comes to specialty magazines, sometimes the people that help with content don’t really have anything to sell other than getting exposure. In some cases, you may want to consider having a budget for content. To date, this magazine has not paid for content, it isn’t to say that we wouldn’t do that in the future but in the world of online marketing, we have enough people that understand the exposure people get in return. The irony is that for the first issue I actually paid someone to write an article on Bitcoin and the content they submitted was completely worthless and not readable. When you do interviews or ask people for articles, content is where you will have to chase people the most so be vigilant.
- Keep costs as low as possible. There are many people that think they need to raise $100k in investments in order to bankroll a project like a magazine. It is possible of doing it that way but I personally think it is risky and not as responsible. Be frugal and avoid spending as much as you can, just don’t do it to the point where people you work with lose respect for you for being too cheap. It helps to be mindful of your budget and set a limit. Things you can spend money on are:
- Graphic design
- Print production & shipping
- Advertising to promote your magazine
If you need to save money on any of the following expenses listed above, here are some tips:
- Photography: do it yourself (DIY) or ask friends that have pro cameras. Last resort is to ask people that have had pro pics done if they can get permission from the photographer to use, of course do proper credits.
- Graphic Design: If you can DIY then great, but otherwise look at fiverr.com or Upwork.com for designers. You can use many royalty-free sites like pexels.com or iconfinder.com to get complementary images and graphics.
- Content: already explained. Most business focused magazines I’ve dealt with I don’t believe have ever paid for content.
- Print production & shipping: you could always consider just doing a digital magazine. It will save you a ton of headaches and I am seeing more and more print magazines make the full switch to digital only. For shipping and logistics, I’ve not heard of a better company than Heftwerk.com otherwise save the planet and #climatechange mmm k
- Advertising: unless you happen to be a Google Adwords or Facebook Ads specialist, I’d avoid spending money trying to get more traffic. You can buy links on other sites too but I’d recommend you bootstrap everything. Save your pennies and grow your income before you feel the need to spend to grow things. Possibly the best form of advertising you can get is use social media, ask anyone that has written content if they could share on their network and if you do an outreach program asking sites to list your magazine on theirs, they might have a spot. This is where something like Dan Ray’s link building system would come in very handy, see danray.me
- Software: To put together a digital magazine, you do NOT need Adobe InDesign, or at least that is my strong opinion. InDesign is (and in my opinion was) the go to software for producing magazines. I do everything in Sketch and you could easily do this in other programs, especially ones that are free and open source. You just need to make a PDF file at the end of the day and you can use anything you want. See sketch.com for learning about or getting Sketch.