Have you ever thought about the process of creating a book or a magazine? What does it look like step by step? What path does the publication go through from being the new idea to becoming the complete issue? The goal is always the same – to win readers’ hearts, yet to get a publisher is a way to achieve it. At least, that’s how it’s been so far. Publishing’s changed and today, no matter what kind of publication you want to publish – book or magazine – you have two options to do it successfully. What are they?
Well, we put them into the title of this article instead of keeping you on tenterhooks.
The first one – “get a publisher” – is as old as books, so let’s call it more traditional. It’s descending from paper and print publishing practice, based on giving the power to others which is engaging an external subject to publish a book with sharing profits policy. In return, the author has one duty which is to provide written content on time.
The second one – “publish yourself” – is relatively new, mostly related to the digital world, and the possibilities of widespread export without any boundaries. Self-publishing is based on giving many roles and deciding power to one man, what’s equal to freedom of decision-making, and what’s related to this, lack of sharing costs.
At first glance they are totally different, aren’t they?
The biggest differences between traditional publishing and self-publishing apply to the length and costs of the whole process, as well as the way of distribution, the range of creative control man has, and profits.
But they also have something in common – the goal, which is reaching readers interested in having or buying the publication.
In the following article, we’ll take a closer look at both ways, analyze how they evolved, (what’s closely related to changing magazines’ roles), point out the pros and cons, and finally, we’ll help you answer the question – which way is better for me?
Get a publisher…
But who’s actually a publisher?
Let’s explain it in a print book example.
Theoretically, it’s an external organization or person whom the author of the content delegates distributing publication to the public. The deal looks like it was simple – the author writes and delivers the content, and a publisher prints and distributes it. In practice, the role of the publisher goes well beyond these two actions.
Imagine – you are a book author who delivers content written in a PDF format (or your literary agent does it). Commercial publishers are rigid and selective about which books they publish, so they can just reject your proposal.
If accepted, you are provided with a team of professionals taking care of the whole publication process (cover design, editorial work, printing, marketing actions, and distribution). However, it can take years until they say “yes”.
The other side of the coin is that authors sell rights to their works and are paid royalties on sales.
It looks similar when it comes to publishing magazines with a publishing house participation.
There are magazine publishing companies producing many different titles. They are usually big corporations, taking care of the whole publishing process, and cooperating with printing houses and bookstores. This kind of company hires special staff who will help with producing the magazine: writers, editors, photographers, salespersons, marketing specialists, graphic designers, proofreaders, photo editors, etc.
Their main monetization strategy is based on advertisements and direct selling thanks to large distributors like bookstores and newsstands.
Of course, there are some titles published under the management of publishing houses which has slowly moved from print to digital (some are no longer published in print at all). The point is that publishing a magazine with a publishing house is like being inside the entire machine governed by its own laws, full of people, processes, rules, and formalities.
An example of such an enterprise is Bauer Media Group, Europe’s largest magazine publisher, with more than 140 years of publishing experience and market-leading positions across Europe with 400+ magazines and 100+ digital products. They publish print magazines as well as digital ones.
The publishing process in such large companies is complicated, long, and many decisions have to be made on many different management levels.
The first step of creating a print magazine is always about making basic decisions and answering essential questions:
- what’s the main topic/ idea/ mission/ tone, and the message we want to deliver? what do we want to write about?
- what’s the best name for the magazine?
- what should it look like? what stylistic elements and color palette should we choose?
- what kind of audience do we want to reach? what is our target demographic?
- how often do we want to publish? yearly, monthly, weekly, or daily?
- how will we find the money for printing our first issue? do we have money saved up or do we have to look to crowdfund or use investors?
- where will our magazine be distributed: regionally or nationally?
- what will be the price of a single issue?
The second step is about making more detailed decisions that should be made before any work on the magazine is done to avoid problems and setbacks during the printing process. These choices are usually related to design:
- overall aesthetics,
- layout design,
- paper quality (should the pages be matte or glossy?),
- where to place photos,
- how to orient text,
- where to place ads.
Somewhere in between, it is also needed to get advertisers who want to place ads on the pages of the magazine.
The last basic step in publishing a magazine is distribution and selling. Creators have to:
- find a place to print issues,
- find places to sell them,
- do marketing actions (outdoors, on the internet).
As you can see – it’s a big undertaking that requires a lot of effort, engagement and hiring professional staff. It has both advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of them:
- you have an experienced team of people who are experts in their job and know what to do,
- the pressure is not only on you but is shared by the whole team,
- running a print magazine means a large loyal customer base that buys the publication on a weekly or monthly basis for months, maybe even for years, which is helpful for advertisers,
- great possibilities for local targeting.
- all profits have to be shared, there’s a necessity to pay fees for shipping and handling,
- the decision process and time to publish are long,
- the framer has no independence in the decision-making process, and everything has to be consulted,
- limited distribution, it’s almost impossible to reach a global audience,
- life-span of a single issue is short, readers have no possibility to buy an old issue,
- problems with unsold issues and wasted money on printing them,
- potentially higher production costs,
- lack of contact with a reader and knowledge about him.
Now, when you know more about publishing a magazine with a publishing house participation, get to know option number two, which is self-publishing.
…or publish your magazine yourself
Self-publishing is a process in which a person who writes a publication is also someone who publishes it. Simply speaking, an author is also a publisher. They decide to prepare and distribute their own work themselves — usually through a digital publishing platform.
Digital publishing platforms are something that changed the publishing process.
Today, most of us write content and publish it on a small scale, seen by our family and circle of friends. We publish our posts and photos on social media and articles on different websites. We share our thoughts and content without the participation of anyone. For all intents and purposes, we can be called both creators and publishers, as well as self-publishers. Do you agree?
Such a process of creating and publishing content without intermediaries can be done on a larger scale, mostly because internet resources allow for preparing a magazine and digital platforms for distributing it.
Self-publishing is the way of preparing and distributing a publication by its author without the involvement of an established publisher.
The term usually refers to written books and magazines, either as an ebook or as a physical copy using POD technology (print on demand) which doesn’t require a large upfront print run. Instead, copies are only printed when your readers order them. You don’t have to worry about losses because of unsold issues.
What differentiates self-publishing from traditional publishing?
Based on our years of experience in the world of digital publishing and on the stories many of our clients told us, we can say with certainty — digital self-publishing is easier than traditional print one.
One of the main reasons, experienced publishers told us, is the shorter and less complicated process of publishing. There is no need to hire such a large team, look for places to distribute, or think about warehouses for storage; there is no loss on unsold numbers, and the decision-making process is much shorter. In many cases, the digital magazine is published by brands already existing on the market, so a huge part of the work is already done, such as marketing background.
In the traditional publishing model, the publisher bears all the costs and risks of publication but retains most of the profit if the book is successful. In self-publishing, just the opposite, the author bears all the costs and risks but earns a higher share of the profit per sale.
However, some steps of the self-publishing process look similar to the traditional one.
The first step of self-preparing a digital magazine is a moment of planning basic things: the main mission, the name, the target audience, etc. The biggest difference lies in distribution — the magazine can be easily distributed globally without looking for external distributors: bookstores and newsstands.
The second step is based on making detailed decisions about the appearance of the magazine, although the issue of paper quality is dropped.
The third step is a completely different story. You won’t find a print house because you don’t need it; won’t look for places to distribute issues, because you already have them (it can be your website).
So, what are the pros and cons of this solution?
- you’re your own boss whose voice counts the most and you have control over everything, you don’t wait for other people’s decisions and permissions,
- you can ask specialists for help and hire freelancers to design your cover or proofread articles but it’s a small group of close cooperation, not a big staff,
- you are present at every stage of preparing a magazine,
- you keep all the money (unless you hire freelancers),
- you are not beholden to any rules, limitations, or deadlines
- you don’t need a big budget to publish digitally (e.g. you don’t spend money on a warehouse or print house),
- you don’t start from the very beginning, it’s an extension of your brand,
- you have your own distribution channels like your website or blog,
- your online distribution scale is unlimited,
- you can update or republish your content,
- there’s the possibility to put interactive content (animations, hyperlinks, videos, or other dynamic content) into the magazine,
- the digital magazines can include links that lead directly to your shop,
- online publication is eco-friendly,
- it’s great for first-time publishers without experience, knowledge, and readers,
- selling online means you have a lot of information and data about your readers and it’s a treasure for the future direction choice.
- you have to spend more time and be more involved in the whole process,
- the pressure for success or possible failure rests almost entirely on you.
Who decided to self-publish a magazine?
In our long history of supporting magazine founders on their path to be independent self-publishers in the digital world, we have seen many success stories.
One of the most successful is the one we described in this article: How to Reach 3.5 Million Readers in a Year? Romania Insider Case Study. They distribute their content via a news app that is available on Google Play and App Store and achieve great results in the number of readers.
We are well aware that starting to publish a digital magazine or the transition from print to digital is a difficult decision. That’s why we have a little hint for you that can be helpful.
Which way is better for me?
The answer lies in the role magazines play.
Look, the traditional, print magazine used to be a separate entity that earned money itself, mostly from advertising; it was a product and a channel of communication at the same time.
Digital publishing changed this role and broadened magazines’ responsibilities. Today, the magazine is something more:
- a communication channel between a brand and customers,
- an advertisement serving other products,
- a tool to bring people to a target place,
- a way to be higher in Google as a brand,
- an extension of a newsletter, or website,
- a supplement for the print issue.
What’s more, digital articles don’t get old, it’s always available, so it’s evergreen content that works all the time.
Before you answer the question from the subtitle, remember you’ve got different options to run your magazine and diversification the content. You don’t have to resign from the paper at all, if it makes sense to you to publish in print. Everything depends on your goals and… readers.
How many self-publishing options do you have?
- You can run a digital publication and sell it on your own website.
To create it, you need a PDF version of the magazine. As simple as that. These PDFs can be embedded on your website, blogs, or on an external website. This publication stimulates the flipping of pages just like a print magazine. The best part is that people can’t download the publication to read (it protects against the unrestricted spread of your content). You can sell your PDF content or distribute it for free.
- You can have a native app for iOS or Android or both.
Many magazines and newspapers have apps offering extended content. Thanks to them you can notify your most loyal readers about the freshest content in your online magazine, convert them into paying subscribers with a flexible paywall and make your subscribers super engaged.
- You can mix both: an e-kiosk and a mobile app.
It doesn’t require additional work (because you can do it thanks to the PDF file) and reaches a new target group (because you’ve already had your audience).
- You can choose one digital form from the above and still offer POD for those who miss paper.
POD is great because you don’t spend money on printing until the company receives an order, so you are not at risk of loss. It allows the printing of a single issue or small quantities.
- You can still run your print magazine without reducing the effort and add a digital edition that can be:
- a standalone product that you sell separately,
- an online replica that print subscribers get for free,
- a supplement that offers exclusive content not included in the print edition.
It depends on the goal of the magazine publishing.
Why exactly do you want to run a magazine?
A) My magazine will generate revenue through selling issues, selling subscriptions, and/or advertising.
This is an older strategy, born in the times when magazines were produced only for providing readers with a pure reading experience.
Today, this is characteristic of big, exclusive magazine brands which know that they can earn enough money to pay people and to be on the surface. They usually offer high-quality content that people are willing to pay for.
This kind of approach gives you limited opportunities to monetize, especially now, when printing has become more and more expensive. There are lots of costs involved from the logistics of delivering your printed publication to the choice of the quality of your paper or ink.
B) My magazine will be a tool to transform readers into customers.
Not all magazine producers are publishers per se. Companies in any number of industries may create magazines to keep their customers up-to-date, inspire them with interesting new content, and keep them engaged with the brand. In this case, the goal is not to sell subscriptions or earn revenue directly — the benefits in reader engagement offset the production costs.
Digital wins here.
Online publication can be the connection between interesting content and needed product. That’s why in recent years we’ve seen a boom in digital catalogs and e-commerce magazines.
While traditional stores published their print catalogs for years, the e-commerce world has started to publish its digital versions recently. In both cases, a publication is a tool to promote products and increase sales.
Bigger brands prepare something more than a catalog — a magazine providing relevant content that offers value to a targeted audience. The goal isn’t direct selling but inspiring readers, keeping them up-to-date, recommending products, and helping customers make good choices.
The perfect digital magazine keeps customers enthusiastic about the brand and the lifestyles associated with the products and services the company offers.
The future of both
The publishing industry, including self-publishing, is changing so rapidly that it is hard to make accurate predictions about where it is headed.
However, we can be sure that the print publishing industry will not disappear so quickly. It will continue to exist on the market — it has supporters among publishers, authors, and readers.
At the same time, the digital publishing market is growing, developing, and gaining more and more supporters while print isn’t. Digital sales would continue to increase over time, and paper-based publishing would become a “niche market” like newspapers and narrow specialization magazines. Along with this growth, publishers and authors will demand more and more data about their readers as well as how well their magazines and books are selling.
Many various companies are competing to create solutions, software, and digital platforms for self-publishers that support them even harder.
So you can enter the world of digital now, or you can…. wait. However, everything points to the fact that sooner or later you’ll have to do this fascinating adventure which will give you possibilities we probably don’t know yet.