By Corinna Keefe — Contributing Writer
Picture this: It’s a sunny Saturday morning and your coffee is hot. You’re sitting in your favourite chair. Hours of delicious free time stretch out in front of you.
You open a magazine and start to read.
This is the best way to read magazines. They’re not just news sources or a vehicle for advertising: they’re an enjoyable experience, like diving head-first into a new DVD box set or taking a warm bath. They’re meant to be savoured.
And from a marketer’s point of view, they’re a great way to hold your audience’s attention. A good magazine will make people think, smile, frown, learn and take action by the time they’ve finished turning its pages.
So far, so idyllic. But does the magic of magazines translate to the digital world?
In this post, I’ll argue that digital magazines — sometimes known as e-magazines — can be amazing experiences too. And I’ll prove the point with 10 digital magazine examples.
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The dismal history of digital magazines
Digital magazines make a lot of sense for content marketers. They can achieve a much wider distribution than print, without the expense of printing and postage. With the right format, they can include more media than ever before, from sound files to videos and scroll-based animation.
But let’s be honest: digital magazines haven’t always provided a great user experience. In fact, they've usually just been digital editions of print publications. The most popular formats for online magazines have historically been PDF magazines, flipbooks and slideshows. In other words, some of the most inconvenient and SEO-unfriendly formats known to humankind.
There are other formats — including those available in Apple's App Store for reading on an iPhone or iPad — which can perform well for mainstream digital publications. But most marketing and communications teams aren't specialist magazine publishers. They're usually producing content for niche audiences, and are unlikely to have the business model to support a bespoke iPad magazine.
Magazines are fun to read because they combine detailed writing and reportage with gorgeous images, visual storytelling and design. You can read a magazine from cover to cover, or flip through the pages to read the features that interest you most.
That’s harder to achieve with a PDF or a slideshow. I’ve lost hours of my life to pinching-and-zooming on PDF files and clicking through endless slides weighed down with ads. And – the killer blow – it’s hard to read these formats on a mobile phone. Magazines are a leisure activity; no one wants to be stuck reading them on a desktop computer.
If you're interested in learning more about how these digital magazine examples are made, check out our guide to choosing a digital magazine platform.
The bright future of digital magazines
So what are the alternatives? Some digital publishers have experimented with building their own magazine apps. A purpose-built app gives you more control over the design, plus lots of audience data (although that could be about to change).
On the other hand, a magazine app takes a lot of developer time and money to build. For many marketing teams – especially in the non-profit, government or education sectors – that’s just not feasible.
What content teams needed was a new format that combined digital ease of access with high-quality content, readability and design.
Enter the new generation of digital storytelling platforms: a flexible way of creating digital magazines utilising the best features of the modern web, including interactivity, html5, and templates for simple creation at scale.
And the ultimate proof that digital magazines work? We’re finally seeing content marketing move beyond just reproducing print magazines on screen. Instead, they’re starting to innovate with social media, new ways of telling stories, and bold designs.
Digital magazine publishing is becoming a core part of the marketing strategy for leading content teams.
Here are 10 digital magazine examples that show off the full versatility of digital publishing.
The flagship feature
We’ll start with an example of a classic magazine feature: The way forward, a story from Emory University about the lessons that scientists, educators, activists and economists have learnt from the covid-19 pandemic.
Like all the best features, it’s an immersive experience. The piece is illustrated with drawings that provide context for the story.
The illustrations in the article are also used to help readers navigate. After reading a brief introduction, you can click on one of the four characters shown in the header image to read more about their expertise.
This is a clever way to combine on-screen convenience with all the depth of a magazine feature. Readers can dip in and out of the story, focusing on the sections which interest them most; or they can choose to read the full article in depth.
The easy-read newsletter
Magazine design isn't one-size-fits-all. Magazines come in all shapes and sizes, from thick quarterly tomes to compact weekly newsletters. For our next example, we’ll take the Ecclesiestical Review, a newsletter from a specialist insurer which focuses on heritage and faith organisations.
Short newsletters like this are a powerful content tool for marketing teams. Because they’re published periodically, they keep readers engaged with your brand over time. You can use regular updates to tell your brand story, keep readers engaged, and develop a lasting relationship with them. You can demonstrate your industry expertise and brand values, while showing that you understand readers’ interests too.
This example takes a fairly traditional format: a welcoming letter from the editor, followed by a selection of relevant news, interviews, and features. Each individual story is shown with a colourful image; readers just have to click to access the article.
The multimedia magazine
Next up, the Wilderness Journal from the Wilderness Society, a green campaigning group in Australia. Like many non-profits, the Wilderness Society has discovered the benefits of using digital storytelling and content to reach their audience. Wilderness Journal is a mix of different media that’s exciting to read, hear and watch.
As well as written interviews and features, the magazine has embedded videos, lots of photos, and even collages by up-and-coming artist Kitty Callaghan. This is in the best traditions of magazine publishing: educating, entertaining, and supporting new writers and artists.
The scientific explainer
Quick explainer blogs and videos are already popular online. You can learn something in less than five minutes. But before YouTube came along, magazines were already a great way to share information with a wide audience.
Now, digital publishers are sharing scientific content, too – with the accuracy, detail, and high production values that we expect from magazines.
Here’s an example from Health Central, titled All in your head. The article is designed to be readable and fun, while packing in a lot of solid information. Readers can scroll through a timeline of medical discoveries, or watch a scroll-based animation that shows how pain signals and reflexes move through the human body.
The little details help, too. This article uses three different colours – blue, black, and pink – to mark the different sections of the story. Just like a magazine layout, it’s easy to flip through and find the information that interests you the most. (And yes, those colours match Health Central’s branding, too.)
The in-depth investigation
Magazines excel at investigative reporting. With their unique combination of timely articles, deep detail, and unmissable images, they’re the perfect way to present a big story.
Take this dive into Understanding the strange world of conspiracy theories, from the University of Queensland. Based on academic research, the story is written in a journalistic style with stunning graphics to match.
The article begins with a black background covered by red threads and pushpins – just like a conspiracy theorist mapping out their ideas. As you scroll through the story, more threads appear and new notes and photographs are added to the board.
The big interview
Whatever your industry, interviews are an effective way to put a human face to your work and tell a story about your brand. You can interview anyone, from the CEO to non-profit workers, community volunteers, customers or charity recipients.
Tharawat takes that personal effect even further, by embedding audio tracks from interviews in their story on State Garden: People, Planet, Produce. So as well as reading the story of the State Garden food business, you can hear the voices of the people who work for the company.
The alumni angle
In the past few years, we’ve seen higher education start to experiment with new kinds of publishing. Content such as magazines and online webinars has become a key way to stay in touch with alumni – fostering community spirit, building the university’s reputation, and raising funds.
One example is Extinction day, a dramatic story about dinosaurs from Imperial College London. It’s an exciting topic (who doesn’t love dinosaurs?) that showcases the university’s latest research and some of its rising stars.
Because it’s aimed at alumni, the Imperial magazine has to find just the right balance between expertise and general readership. They manage it here by illustrating the article with atmospheric drawings and dramatic pull quotes.
The research report
If the past eighteen months have taught us anything, it’s that we need researchers: from creating new vaccines to developing remote work technology, coming up with solutions to the climate crisis, and keeping everyone entertained during lockdowns with books, documentaries and podcasts.
But it’s a distressing fact that most academic research has no impact on the general public.
Digital magazines can change that. You can make research accessible and exciting to a larger audience than ever.
This report on Mapping global flood risk from the University of Bristol is designed to bring their climate research to a wider audience. It uses video backgrounds and animated maps to show how scientists predict flood risk. The strong visuals make the report gripping to read. And if you want to look up the academic references, they’re available as instant hyperlinks in the text.
The news round-up
One reason that magazines are so readable is because they present a mix of content. Investigative reporting and quick columns. Dramatic photography and funny cartoons. The idea is that every reader should be able to find something that suits their mood or interests.
This is something that digital magazines do well. You can present a collection of features and links in an attractive main page. You can offer up news headlines alongside evergreen articles, and let readers take their pick.
One example is Grizzly Magazine, written for (and often by) members of the California Military Department. The “front page” of the magazine is a long scroll packed with photographs, videos and headlines. There’s a huge array of content on offer, but it’s easy to navigate and attractively presented.
The one that's fun
As we’ve seen, magazines are a powerful way to share news and research. But you can also use them to tell a story about the publisher themselves, whether you want to chart the history of a university, show the priorities of a government department, or tell the story of a non-profit project.
Wag, the magazine from the Dogs Trust in the UK, is a brilliant example. It’s full of fun content for dog owners, from treat recipes to Christmas gift ideas and special offers. But there are also more emotional topics, such as dog adoption stories and a report on illegal smuggling. The magazine as a whole tells a story about the Dogs Trust’s mission and approach.
All the features in the magazine are laid out on one long page, making it easy to get drawn into the content.. Scroll-based animations keep things moving, too: as you read through the autumn issue, you’ll see leaves gently falling down the page. It’s fun, it’s colourful, and it makes a compelling case for the Dogs Trust’s work.
Corinna Keefe is a freelance writer specialising in tech, heritage and education. Originally from the UK, she has lived and worked in 10 different countries.