The Future of magazine publishing

Laurent Gerniers 22-12-2016 Market

Is HTML the future of mobile publishing?

Publishers are asking for a cost effective way to publish to mobile without the need to re-layout their content for every type of mobile device they want to support.
Publishers are asking for an effective way to publish to different media.
Publishers want to be able to integrate their content with advertising and marketing tools, analytics software, …

It is clear to everyone that web technology can and will bring an answer to those expectations. But this requires a content first approach, where publishers have one starting point for managing their content and then push it out to different media.
The hard reality is that many publishers are still print-oriented (or more specifically InDesign-oriented) and are not willing to invest the required resources to create HTML-based content. More than 90% of our customers are still InDesign-oriented!
The hard reality is that most publishers are reluctant to invest in a CMS and/or to change their approach towards content creation. So there is a huge disproportion between the market reality and the expectations.
This is a fact we have to accept and understand. Publishing is a traditional industry and it will just take time to evolve. Technology can already offer a solution today but few players are willing and capable to adapt quickly.
This is why we think we need to offer a flexible solution where the publisher is free to choose how he wants to publish and is able to move to the next step whenever he is ready for it. In addition to offering the technology, we also feel we need to guide him, albeit at the speed he’s comfortable with.

Looking at mobile publishing, we should understand that native apps are just more powerful and deliver a better and more intuitive user experience. So it is important to offer more than just a web site embedded in an app.

Is InDesign dead?

As an overwhelming majority of publishers are still working with InDesign today, it clearly is not - on the contrary.
Working ‘pixel perfect’ may be more time consuming but it is still providing the best user experience.
There is nothing wrong with InDesign-based content except that is becomes expensive to re-create the content for different device sizes (tablets and phones). Therefore we expect a move in the direction of more template-based, responsive HTML layouts where in many cases content will be fed from a CMS.
A majority of the articles in a magazine could be created in an automated fashion, but for certain key articles extra time and budget may be available for pixel perfect designs.
We expect that in the long run about 80% of the content will be HTML-based and 20% InDesign-based - those 20% will make the difference and provide that specific experience readers expect from their magazine.

Where does the money come from?

Paid content! Subscriptions, and advertising.

Publishing is about branding. It’s about how readers value your brand, how they identify you, your style, your values, the way you write, your opinions and what you can offer them. You inspire them, surprise them, teach them, over and over you give them a good feeling, a nice experience and you fulfill their expectations. That’s what they want to pay for.
Free content sponsored by advertising only is not realistic. Anything that is free has a lower value perception and users of free content will always be less loyal to their brand. We would even advise you to only work with subscriptions, or at least try to push your readers towards subscriptions. In-app purchases leave the door open for your readers to stop coming back. Perhaps you can provide a subset of articles for free for a limited period so readers can value what they get but the next step is to subscribe.
Once readers subscribe, they become a valuable asset you can monetize with advertising. Don’ underestimate the fact that you know a lot about your readers. You may have sold a subscription through your web shop so that you know their age, gender, income level, … you’ll know what their preferences are based on their reading behaviour. This allows you to do targeted advertising, thus increasing the value of the ads you show. Leave the readers in control and respect them. There is nothing wrong with ad blocking, it’s just a message from readers that they prefer no advertising but at the same time they understand the content could be more expensive in that case. Reward them for accepting advertising by providing them extra’s so they will be more open to advertising.
Also align your advertisers with your brand identity. Advertisers should normally do that but make sure you monitor this. Wrong advertisers could affect the perception of your brand.


Apps like Flipboard and Apple News provide profile-driven content. The user defines which content he or she is interested in. It is logical that the value perception of such content will be higher if it matches the expectations, but that’s exactly what may be the Achilles’ heel for these apps.
Anyway, as a publisher with different titles in your portfolio you will always have the ambition to do cross-selling, offering e.g. a subscription of your football magazine to a subscriber of your news magazine. You understand the benefit of targeted advertising, but also that the value of a profile-based magazine is a lot better than a magazine around a single theme. Imagine a reader chooses to subscribe to an economics magazine but also loves football, and likes to go to the movies from time to time. He values the economics magazine and the publisher is able to offer him the main articles of his football and movie magazines for perhaps an extra 30% compared to his current subscription. The reader is happy because he has the content he is looking for at at an attractive price instead of having 3 separate subscriptions. He doesn’t have the time to read three magazines so he is not willing to pay for these. The publisher will be happy because he’s able to up-sell, and the reader will be more positive about the brand.


It’s all about value perception. Imagine a magazine where you can see the reaction to an article from different people whose opinion you value, both public figures and personal contacts. Whether we are conscious about it or not, we all belong to communities where we find comfort. Supporting that community feeling can also add value to your content.
On web sites this is a common thing, but on mobile this is not as common yet.
Let the user be in control and offer him the possibility to filter the comments he’s interested in. Let him play with those comments so they become part of the content.

Different media, different content?

We believe each medium offers a specific added value and has specific use cases. Many publishers tend to publish the same content on print, web and mobile and don’t even make a distinction between tablet and mobile (phone). We think each medium should have its own focus and present a unique offering, i.e. the tablet medium is ideal to offer in-depth information and to make people understand the news. A tablet is a “lean back” device where you take the time to read content. While this may be similar to a print magazine, the tablet can also offer video and audio content and interactivity, with links to related articles. Phone and web content are consumed in a “lean forward” way, the reader is searching and needs to know asap! He wants to know what’s new but is not instantly interested to understand the why. It is all about short, live snippets of content. People follow the score of a football match on their phone rather than on their tablet. The same thing goes for a web site, a “lean forward” medium where readers search for short pieces of information and don’t have a habit of reading long articles. Print and tablets are for long reads.
Try to define what content you are going to publish on each medium. The subject can be the same everywhere but the contents and the content size doesn’t have to be. The journalist can create different versions of an article at the same time, perfectly defining which content will be available for which medium.
Readers consume content on all media, or at least on more than one type of medium. Make sure you have a combined offering that differs by medium but offers an added value on each of those media.
The content is central, not the medium. Centralize your content and then publish it in the required format to each medium.
Offer different types of subscriptions. All-in, print & mobile, mobile only, web & mobile, …

Publishers have been looking for the holy grail since quite some time. While we don’t want to pretend we know how they should evolve and manage their offering over today’s diverse media universe, we only want to share some thoughts and try to inspire.
It is clear that publishers will only be able to optimize their offering through trial and error.

Tomorrow will be made from today’s dreams.