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Taking Your Magazine Digital? 4 Things You Need To Know

If you've decided that it's time for your trade publication to make the big leap into the digital world, you have a lot of thinking and planning ahead of you. The good news, however, is that many publishers have accomplished this transition with great success -- and that means you can too. Here are a few helpful tidbits to take into consideration.

1. You'll Want to Diversify Your Revenue Channels

When your publication enters the digital sphere, it will need to spread its presence out across a diverse range of ad-revenue and reader-revenue channels. This means thinking in terms of multiple small digital revenue streams instead of the single large "golden egg" represented by print advertising dollars. These revenue channels may include everything from native advertising (sponsored content embedded into appropriate, clearly-differentiated sections of your editorial content), sponsorship, and banner ads to new methods of capturing your readership such as e-commerce sites, data products, apps, and online subscriptions that open the gates to exclusive content.

2. Content Marketing Can Be Great for Your Profits

The Internet's appetite for content is insatiable, and more and more B2B and B2C businesses are recognizing the need to ramp up their marketing content. Much of that content has to be outsourced -- and that's where your publishing empire stands ready to profit. Many leading digital publishers have struck it rich by growing their content marketing departments, which create custom content for native advertisers. For instance, Meredith Co., the force behind Better Homes and Gardens, boosted its operating profits by 35 percent in the last quarter of 2014 by providing outsourced content marketing services, while Time, Inc.'s digital custom content business increased its profits by 40 percent that same year. Could your publication be the next big content marketing success story?

3. Responsive Website Design Is a Must

The future of Web-based business is here -- and it's responsive. A responsive website is one that automatically adjusts its page layout to conform to the size of the perceived viewer, from full-screen PC monitors to handheld devices. This prevents the text from shrinking to microscopic size and the menu buttons becoming too small and crowded to be unusable. If you're transitioning from print form to digital form, you absolutely must build or rebuild your official website to include this functionality.

A huge segment of the populace now relies on its mobile devices to perform primary Internet tasks such as online shopping and news reading; in fact, the numbers of mobile Internet users worldwide passed the number of PC-based users for the first time in 2014. According to the Newspaper Association of America, 29 percent of all newspaper readers read that news on mobile devices. If that's not incentive enough, consider this: Google recently announced that mobile-friendly websites will receive preferential treatment over others in search results.

4. You May Need to Adapt to Online Reader Behaviors

Start planning for your online content and/or its presentation to accommodate different reader behaviors than you may be used to. For example, neuroscientists have found that the brain tends to skim online information instead of reading slowly to absorb information in depth. That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to dumb down your publication's content, but it does mean that your editorial team may need to construct a Web-friendly "front page" that entices viewers to dig deeper by following links to the more comprehensive content within. (By the way, don't assume that your online readership will automatically skew younger than your print readership; more than half of Americans who read newspapers on mobile devices exclusively are 35 or older.)

It's also critical to develop detailed analytics that go beyond simple page view counts to tell you exactly how long and how actively your visitors explored your publication's website, subscription content, and social media channels.

Making the transition from a print-only magazine to a modern digital media provider can be a daunting enterprise, but the sooner you take the first steps, the sooner and more successfully you'll become a player in publishing's bright future. Good luck!

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