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10 Biggest Digital Magazine Mistakes – Industry Experts Weigh In

Written by Michelle Kalman on June 21, 2012

Ten is a good number when it comes to making lists. Much like Goldilocks’s porridge choice – it’s not too big and not too small – it’s just right. On the topic of making mistakes in media – specifically digital magazines – the list surely could go on and on.

A few years back, I worked on the launch of Canada’s first online beauty magazine; The Kit, which is now owned and operated through Torstar. Acting as Creative Director and Associate Publisher for the launch resulted in a ton of trial and error – and a ton of excitement. Taking a concept, naming it, deciding what it would look like, who would like it, what they would like about it, who would contribute, who we could sell it to, the stuff we could give away, the research we could gather… the possibilities seemed endless. Like many new media launches, our team was small but mighty and we took great pride in creating a truly unique product in the Canadian magazine and digital media landscape.

All this said, there were learning curves. Really big ones. And not just for this brand launch – for just about anyone in publishing who has dabbled in the digital magazine arena. When I set out to create this list of the ’10 Biggest Digital Magazine Mistakes’, I decided the content would have a lot more clout and depth if it were created by a broad mix of industry experts. So I reached out to my pals and here’s what they had to say:

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By The Busy Brain 

1. APPLES & ORANGES: DUPLICATING PRINT CONTENT

 “I see an opportunity to reach beyond the current limitations of print media. Simply duplicating the print experience online isn't enough to engage readers. With social media tools such as Pinterest playing a larger role in connecting like-minded individuals, a magazine's community can be built through shared dialogue and user-generated content.” Adam Snellings, Integrated Marketing Solutions Designer – Reader’s Digest 

“In a magazine, the linear story telling is natural. Putting that same story on the web requires a dissection of that story line. You have a header and image to grab the online reader and encompass all the story offers in one shot. When translating a print story to web, consider what a quick-hit reader might miss on a multi-page online format.” Laura Antonik, Senior Web Designer and Producer – fashionmagazine.com / torontolife.com

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Robet Vega

2. WALKING VS. DRIVING: ASSUMING ONLINE USER EXPERIENCE PARALLELS READER EXPERIENCE

“The print editorial team for Parents Canada had developed fun titles to identify the different sections of the magazine in our table of contents. Our magazine readers could easily figure out what they meant by seeing the articles listed under the section title in the table of contents. We decided, for brand consistency, that we would use these same titles in the main navigation of the website but we quickly realized that without the same context they did not make for a simple, intuitive navigation structure which is key to a successful online experience. With a different context, and the importance of keyword search we soon realized we needed a completely different strategy.” David Baker, VP Marketing - Family Communications

“With a digital magazine like The Kit, people jump around click-wise; you don't read a digital magazine in chronological order necessarily. Page numbers become next to redundant. We had to make advertisers also realize that the front of the book positions weren't always the best
they weren't always the most-read. In fact some issues saw readers spending the most time in the very back.” Doug Wallace, Associate Publisher Content - The Kit

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Vinoth Chander

3. CART BEFORE HORSE: NOT BOTHERING WITH RESEARCH 

“Don't rush the process and skip the research stage. Not only should you research other successful online magazines and sites, it’s also important to immerse yourself in the space. Mitch Joel has written a book called the Six Pixels of Separation and has a compelling blog (twistimage.com/blog) about putting sustainable content ‘out there’ in cyberspace and creating a brand with longevity.  It's a must read for everyone. So, the number one recipe for success when creating an online magazine or content of any kind: do your research.” Maxine Finlay Ross, Manager, Marketing Solutions for Corporate Sales - Rogers Consumer Publishing Division.

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Andres

4. ERROR: FAILING TO INVEST IN DIGITAL TALENT AND PRACTICES

“Hire extremely talented web developers/designers to produce your digital version. What works in print won't work online. These are two very distinct medias and optimization is key in every facet of the word in an online environment. Plus, failing to invest in social media activities. Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest are powerful brand and audience development channels. Appoint a social media champion and encourage all staff members to actively participate.” Kenneth Maclean, Principal Partner – Community Niche 

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Ken Teegardin

5. OH MY ACHING EYEBALLS: TOO MANY PAGES

“No one wants to read a 150-200 page digital magazine online. The attention span online is far less than the printed version. Online readers need to be engaged in what they are reading, you need to find creative ways to keep their interest. It may mean breaking the magazine apart online so that there are ‘sections’. If you have editorial on let's say Fashion, Travel and Entertainment, feature these as separate digital formats allowing the user to decide what to read. Choice is always good.” Peter Mazzotta, Founder & President, Sandbox Publishing

"Editorially, one of the pitfalls we first noticed at The Kit was that because there was no paper or ink to worry about, we could expand our stories however we liked. Little did we realize, we were actually exhausting our readers, using 15 pictures when 5 would have told the story just fine – and have been cheaper. People were seeing us land in their inbox and deleting right away, because they just couldn't spare the 45 minutes it took to look through. Less is more." Doug Wallace,  Associate Publisher Content - The Kit 

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Mannobhai

6. IT AIN’T THE SAME AS PAPER: NOT UNDERSTANDING TECHNOLOGY

“Without a doubt, the main problem I've encountered creating a digital magazine is working within technology's limitations. It's one thing to design a gorgeous interactive magazine, but it's quite another thing to publish it to all the different platforms (iPads, Android tablets, browser versions,  Kobos, Kindle Fires, mobile apps, and whatever else has launched in the past month). Each platform has its own set of rules and restrictions, so it's completely impossible for all the creative interactive elements to work on them all.” Caroline Bishop, Creative Director – The Kit 

“Technology will always be changing, and so too will the ways we tell stories. As an interactive designer, the important thing to understand when publishing a story is all the 'instances' you need to fill where it’s being featured, promoted, linked from and shared. Each of those will likely require an adjustment to the context, tense, image size, etc. for each story. Content is not just printed once, it’s displayed in a myriad of ways that require attention to detail and often a re-positioning of the message.” Laura Antonik, Senior Web Designer and Producer – fashionmagazine.com / torontolife.com 

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Duckie Monster

7. MONEY HUNGRY: THINKING OF REVENUE BEFORE ENGAGEMENT

“Create engaging content – not just a duplication of what's already out there.  So many sites seem to be a "cash grab" for advertiser dollars.  It's important that whatever content is published, that it's relevant to the audience you're trying to reach, that it is written by writers who have passion and knowledge for the subject, and that it offers something new to the user.” Maxine Finlay Ross, Manager, Marketing Solutions for Corporate Sales - Rogers Consumer Publishing Division

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By James Vaughan

8. OH YEAH THOSE GUYS: NOT CONSIDERING THE ADVERTISER

“Don't forget about your advertisers. Creative solutions for reader retention in editorial is one thing, but equally important is the presence the advertisers have online. This too is a creative challenge that can be easily met having the right digital creative minds in your arsenal.” Peter Mazzotta, Founder & President, Sandbox Publishing

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Social Is Better

9. WEARING BLINDERS: FORGETTING FEEDBACK COUNTS 

 “Failure to seek input from key stakeholder groups (end users, advertisers, internal staff) at key points in the website planning and development process.  In many of the web redesigns I have been involved in (torontolife.com, weddingbells.ca, fashionmagazine.com) formal and informal research was conducted with these audience segments to clearly identify their needs and ensure the product being developed met them.” Kenneth Maclean, Principal Partner – Community Niche

Photo courtesy Creative Commons/By Daniel Catt

10. FLATLINE: STAYING STATIC

“From an art perspective, the benefits actually far outweigh the drawbacks. Colours are truer, and I have a much larger selection of colours to work with. Don’t miss the opportunity to add really cool interactive elements such as animated headlines, slideshows within layouts, and hidden captions. But, best of all, there isn't the stress of sending a file to the printer... if an error is made in digital land, I can simply re-upload my file and the mistake vanishes.” Caroline Bishop, Creative Director – The Kit    

Avoid shovelware - make sure your digital content is unique to drive sustained engagement. Give your audience something they cannot get from your print product such as behind the scenes videos from a fashion magazine cover shoot.” Kenneth Maclean, Principal Partner – Community Niche

Like I said, ten is a good number for lists but clearly the conversation on this topic is just getting started. Stay tuned for more on what NOT to do.

COMMENTS FROM RELATED DISCUSSIONS: 

BtoB Magazine LinkedIn group:

Rich Merritt (Proprietor at M3 Marketing Communications):
"What I dislike about most digital magazines is the need to scroll up, down and sideways to read a page of content. If I shrink the page so it fits on my 19-in screen, the type is too small to read. What the world needs are vertical monitors, so an entire 8 1/2 x 11 page can fit on the screen and be readable. Alas, the last vertical monitors were built by Wang computers back in the 1980s."

Nic Cough (Event Organiser at East Yorkshire Business Expo):
"Digital magazines have their place but will never replace the printed version. They should compliment each other, however, content should be completely different and appropriate to the platform on which it is using. The content of each platform should be designed to drive the reader to the other media to seek out more of the content that they desire. The online version should always be the additional content with the main business being the printed format. That way the printed version can drive readers to the website. Unless you have millions of pounds/dollars to invest in marketing a stand alone web-mag you will never get the numbers of hits on your magazine that you would require to make it attractive to advertisers."

Josh Gordon (Director of Marketing and Content Development at Wheatstone Corporation):
"Great article. For the positive side of many of the same points made check out this study: http://pages.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/NXTbook/joshgordonsurvey/docs/joshgordonstatic.pdf"


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