Magazine Publishers Win When Print, Mobile Website and Mobile App Coexist


In 2012, Jason Pontin wrote at MIT’s that many magazine publishers believed employing a mobile app would save their product. They could reverse the devastating financial effects of free digital access. Unlike digital replicas on a website, magazines would “run on ‘native’ applications [those developed by the publisher] on mobile operating systems like Apple’s iOS, and thus would possess the dazzling functions of true software.”

Pontin continued, “For traditional publishers, the scheme was alluring. Because they were once again delivering a discrete product, analogous to a newspaper or magazine, they could charge readers for single-copy sales and subscriptions.”

Unfortunately, he argued, it all went terribly wrong. “The real problem with apps was that when people read on electronic media, they expect the stories to possess the linky-ness of the Web—but stories in apps didn’t really link.”

Now it’s a new day, but the conflict between mobile websites and mobile apps goes on. Still, a lot has changed, if you’re to believe much of the internet chatter. But what does it all mean? Are apps the answer? Are magazines on websites going away? What about print?

It’s back to the future for print

For a while it looked like print magazines were a dying breed. But instead of going away, print changed and adapted. Specialty magazines, in particular, have found a home with readers who like ink on paper.

Additionally, print magazines seem to be offering readers a viable alternative to newspapers. Here’s how:

  • The daily paper depends on “breaking news.” With a 24-hour news cycle, people can get their hot news immediately online or on cable TV. They don’t have to wait for the morning paper. Magazines don’t depend on breaking news. So newspapers have lost one of their most important advantages.
  • Newspaper stories, which tend to be rather short, don’t offer the more in-depth treatment magazine articles can provide.
  • Magazines, especially niche publications, focus on a particular subject. Newspapers contain more general information without the level of expertise offered by magazine writers.

As newspapers become thinner and thinner and fewer and fewer, cable news and the internet will continue to provide news in bits and bites. Print magazines stand to pick up the ink-on-paper crowd looking for more meaty coverage, even at a premium price.

Website magazines are here to stay

Publishing a magazine on a website is a relatively simple and inexpensive proposition. HTML5 allows optimization of websites for all devices, including phones and tablets. Also, sites written in HTML5 can offer the kinds of features apps provide.

Mobile websites give magazines with a tight budget the chance to get their editorial and advertising in front of readers who prefer a read-it-anywhere digital solution. As a 2019 blog on puts it, “[T]he best part about [a mobile website] is that you can easily create an online magazine on your own. . . . And when you are done, the sharing possibilities are endless. You can embed it directly on your website or download is as HTML5. Or share it with our social media following.”

The mobile app insurgency continues

The truth is that magazine apps are popular. And there appear to be a number of reasons for their success, one of which is the aforementioned “linky-ness.” For example, claims that access to links excites not only readers but also advertisers.

“Online publishing gives readers great opportunities to explore digital magazines,” avers. By using hyperlinks within the content, readers can connect not only to other information inside and outside the magazine but also to websites operated by advertisers. Convincing advertisers of the value of links to their website helps sell digital ads.

So which mobile magazine app is best?

Of course, it depends on whom you ask, so more exploration is a good idea. But here are three from the folks at

  • The Ovid Bell Press works with BlueToad to offer economical and versatile digital editions of your publication. You can see a sample here. This is the service we use to provide our OMag. We can convert your print pdf files into enhanced digital publications, and even help with video, music and other fun enhancements! Reach out to learn more!
  • Amazon Kindle Unlimited exposes magazines to millions of readers. The risk is that any individual magazine might get buried in the pile of competing publications.
  • Zinio’s pricing is a bit murky, but the app offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to creating and distributing content.
  • Issuu also provides a high level of exposure with its risk of burial. It also allows for sharing stories on Instagram and Facebook Stories.
  • Joomag offers full online publishing on one platform that has the additional benefit being easy to use. It works for publishers of any size.
  • Mag+ lets publishers create content apps which allows them to make apps from their digital magazines.
  • Yudu gives publishers the opportunity to open previously untapped channels of distribution by developing communication apps.
  • Zmags offers fast publication of interactive content that can improve engagement times by more than 400%.
  • Walsworth can create custom apps to compliment printed products. As a subsidiary of Walsworth, The Ovid Bell Press can introduce you to the appropriate people within the organization who can help you. Learn more about the apps here.

Why not go for the whole package?

Yes, it complicates things when you have to think about print, website and app, but when the bottom line depends on readers and advertisers, you have to go where they go. And, while print is still alive and doing well, there are opportunities among the many digital devotees.

You want to tap every market and remember that there’s a lot of crossover. Print lovers like their tablets and their phones, and tablet and phone users like to sit down with a print magazine. Don’t forget laptop and desktop users, either.

Apparently, publishers are finding strength in diversity—taking a diverse approach to distribution, that is. Adapting to the disruption that has come with the digital revolution isn’t easy, but it can work out. The key is not to reject new ways of doing business but to find what functions best in both the digital and print worlds and using it to succeed.

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