Help me transition a visually-rich print magazine to an online model
May 14, 2021 9:38 AM   Subscribe

The realities of the pandemic, economic and otherwise, have grounded the fledgling consumer magazine our organization was producing before covid. Moving forward a print product will no longer be possible financially but we have a rich set of archives that we'd like move online, and we'd also like the possibility of publishing new content in the future. Looking for suggestions for templates and/or platforms that can help us show off our past work, and possibly showcase future work, all of which is rich in photography and illustration.

The issue is that none of us likes the look of online magazines given that the title is heavy on photography and illustration. Much effort went into the art direction of issue, especially the typography. Given this, there has been much sadness to abandon the print format, and much reluctance to adopt a digital model. (We're all old school and haven't seen anything online that speaks to our creative souls the way that print can, within the very limited budget we of this publication.)

We've considered simply making the PDFs of our back copies available through digital publishing platforms such as Issu or Joomla, but the consensus is that these platforms are clunky and simply don't do justice to the work and design of past issues, especially once rendered on tablets and mobile phones.

This is our biggest concern in looking for an online solution: that our visually rich articles will fall flat once the photos and illustrations are resized for mobile display, which is how it seems most people are digesting online content these days -- but I stand to be corrected.

Squarespace is the platform we're currently using for the organization as a whole. Can anyone working in design and/or publishing point us in the direction of suitable magazine template that would allow us to show off the rich photography of our archives? Or should we be looking for a template designer to come up with something specific to our needs?

(We're not interested in developing an app; if we're going digital then we want an online home that is easily accessible to readers. And almost everyone here hates WordPress so that will be a hard sell...)
posted by braemar to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at the online versions of similar magazines? Do you like any of those? That could at least give you a starting point. It sounds like maybe Juxtapose might be close.

At some level you will need to get comfortable with the limitations of the medium. But conversely, there are things you can do with online formats that you could never do in print. You have to priotitize how your audience will most enjoy your content, not how you can shoehorn your personal vision into the format.

I recommend against PDFs. They are clunky to load, and no one likes having to download and open a bunch of files.

I recommend hiring a good web designer and showing them the online magazines you like most, and let them help select a wordpress or squarespace template that will look good and be easy for you and your staff to update and post new things to
posted by ananci at 9:48 AM on May 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Assuming you're using InDesign for layout, I recommend looking at In5. It will export html5 files for you that can be super interactive. Here's a sample of one magazine created with it. There are a lot of other samples on their website.

In5 will export your own html 5 files that you host, so you own all content. It will also allow you to create responsive layouts for desktop vs mobile.

Feel free to memail me. I've been doing a ton of research in this space, and can share some other resources if you're interested.
posted by hydra77 at 10:25 AM on May 14, 2021

Best answer: Given the very limited budget I’d first decide how much of that you’re willing to spend on getting the archive online versus new material. Be realistic - how much of putting the archive online is about you all being fond of it compared to how often it’s likely to be viewed by the public? Getting all the text and images from a big archive online, particularly a design-heavy, visual publication, in a beautiful, usable web-native format would be a BIG job, no matter what the CMS and templates are like.

So, unless your archives are something that’s genuinely referred to very frequently by your current audience (and a potential new online audience), I’d suggest admitting that the archive is print only, and using Issu or similar to at least make it available online with the minimum amount of cost and effort.

Concentrate your time and money on rethinking how the publication could work online in the future. Would you still publish to a fixed monthly (or whatever) schedule? That might be nice in some ways, but also make it hard to keep a regular audience among the flighty online audience, unless you’re doing a lot of other frequent stuff too.

How will the material all be structured - it’s so different to the print flatplan. A large part of your audience is likely to arrive from who-knows-where, see or read a single page and then disappear again. The single webpage, and the navigational structure, are completely different to the pacing of a single issue’s articles.

You’ll also need to think about the workflow and how that may be different to what you’re used to.

Sorry that none of this is “Oh, you just need these templates!” And forgive me if any or all of this is blindingly obvious - I’ve just seen print people fail to grasp the fundamental differences between print and online too many times.

But it sounds like you need to decide exactly how you’d like the publication to work online - for both the readers and the creators - before you look for CMSs that can facilitate that, and then get on to very front end. A “template designer” feels a fair way off.

When you’ve got something up and working, maybe then you start putting old issues online in the new format as time and budget allows?
posted by fabius at 5:55 AM on May 15, 2021

Response by poster: Sorry that none of this is “Oh, you just need these templates!” And forgive me if any or all of this is blindingly obvious - I’ve just seen print people fail to grasp the fundamental differences between print and online too many times.

This. Thank you very much fabius, no apologies necessary. You've hit the nail on the head, which is that we can't see a clear and direct route to transfer our existing material to an online format because it was originally designed and structured for print, and the two media are consumed so very differently. I think what you are saying is that print publications looking to do a straight A-to-B transition to an online platform are wistfully trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, am I right?

The bulk of what we did was focused on long form features, six to seven each issue at 2000-3000 words apiece, complemented by three to four 'departments' on a DPS featuring a full page photo or illustration across from 500-800 words. But I so far can't find any successful examples of this kind of lengthy content that is both well presented and *easily digestible* in an online format. In fact I've been thinking that any successful online iteration of what we've been doing would entail some serious editing to condense our past articles into smaller bite-sized pieces. But if I'm wrong and you've seen long form content successfully executed online, please do tell.

And to answer your question about whether our archives would be viewed by our audience - yes definitely, from the beginning there have been many requests to offer an online version. We are also looking to use the archives to expand our audience, but I question whether an online audience would have the patience to digest everything we did previously on a tablet, mobile phone, or even a desktop.

The print magazine was very much designed to be something beautiful to hold in the hand and read at leisure in a comfortable chair in the evening with a drink in hand. Which is not even vaguely how most people consume digital media.

(And which is why all of us old school creative souls wanted to do a print magazine and turned our noses up at the thought of something online. Sigh.)

With all of this in mind, I would be very grateful if you could point to any resources for "print people" to grasp the fundamental differences, as well as resources on structuring content and pacing it for the online world. Any links to online publications that successfully fit your definition of an online magazine with quality imagery and editorial would also be very welcome.
posted by braemar at 8:37 AM on May 15, 2021

I think the biggest difficulty might be replicating the impact of photography and design online. In print you might expect to custom design each feature (within overall guidelines) to look unique and suit the article’s flavour. Online there’s not only the difficulty of having such a visual impact when you’re restricted to a browser window, which might be on a small phone, but also by the difficulty of doing such custom design - it could require bespoke code to make each piece look good.

I read the London Review of Books and the New York Review, both of which replicate their print contents online, grouped by issue, as well as having historical archives. But they’re very text-heavy and don’t have custom-designed print features to try and replicate. Still worth a look perhaps (although I find the LRB’s recent redesign a bit slow to load).

That being said I read both of those as print versions and wouldn’t enjoy reading online only as much. And I’ve no idea how these sites are used - by people who don’t read the print version? As a companion to the print version? To attract new readers?

I can’t think of online publications that do custom-designed, image-heavy articles regularly, but that’s more my lack of knowledge (might be worth a different Ask to find examples?). One parallel might be the occasional big article that uses a web page in a way that can’t be done in print, the “Snowfall article”. But I expect that takes a lot of resources.

I completely understand your feelings about replacing a print object with a website. I love reading paper! I’m not sure this follow up has been much help. It’s a tricky thing you’re doing. I guess you need to separate your interest and excitement about the subject matter from your love of print. How do you best communicate and share your great ideas, thoughts, images, etc in a web-friendly manner, to potentially more people than you could reach before?
posted by fabius at 9:11 AM on May 15, 2021

I might also suggest considering a both/and approach, rather than an either/or - if you can find a way to (easily and affordably) reflow your old stories into a mobile-readable but inferior format, you can offer them that way for people who choose to read it on a phone, along with a link at the top or bottom that says "Please see our online formatted version or download the PDF for a better experience."

(Just because lots of people read stuff on a phone these days doesn't necessarily mean that'll hold true for your readers, or for your readers reading this material specifically. Metrics can help here - maybe put up a handful of issues and see how real people actually interact. You could even set up a survey asking people which version they preferred, if they tried more than one version.)

I am not a fan of Issuu, but I recently checked out FlowPaper for a client of mine, and I'm pretty impressed. The free trial version of FlowPaper lets you create a 10 page document from a PDF and host it on either their site or your own; going through that process gave me a very clear idea of how it works (in my opinion, it's quick and easy) and let me recommend it to my client.
posted by kristi at 11:32 AM on May 15, 2021

I have a strong preference for just serving up straight PDFs for this purpose, and definitely not using html 5 flipbooks or any proprietary container to present them. With a PDF I can view it in whatever program I like, zoom using my normal zoom controls and not some slider that I have to find the location of (which is different with each program), download the whole file to view offline or to not have to wait to load the next page (or to zoom in), and send it to my tablet to read rather than squint at it on my computer screen.

I read a lot of old newspapers. The ones that just have a PDF file of the whole scan are So. Much. Easier. to deal with than those I can only view online through the web application.

My company just switched our online catalog from a PDF download to a html 5 flipbook and I hate everything about it.

PDFs are kind of a pain compared to native web content, but they remain the best format for viewing things that weren’t designed to be viewed online in the first place. Even if I’m reading on my phone a PDF is almost always better than anything but a straight text or properly formatted for mobile web page.
posted by Jawn at 11:41 AM on May 15, 2021

PDFs are kind of a pain compared to native web content, but they remain the best format for viewing things that weren’t designed to be viewed online in the first place.

Yes. The other thing to bear in mind is accessibility. Text on a webpage is usable by technologies like screen readers. PDFs can be accessible too. Issuu, as far as I know isn’t.

(I know I’m wildly glossing over the details of how to make webpages and PDFs “accessible” here.)
posted by fabius at 12:56 PM on May 15, 2021

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