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Magazine Media Formats: Glossary and Descriptions

Magazines are one of the oldest of media forms and arguably ‘the most successful media format’ ever to have existed. Since magazines started evolving in the early decades of the 20th century, the industry has not seemed to consider the web as a barricade nor doubt its fate in the digital revolution. Having survived, it has spawned a variant dubbed “digital magazines“, those that we know are produced not in paper but via digital publishing.

And today, when we delve into our smartphones or other mobile devices, it’s confusing to think just how many magazines, and more importantly, how many different format ‘types’ are out there. With the possibilities digital technology has opened up for publishers, it’s so easy to miss what could be a lucrative opportunity for creating and distributing content and it’s often hard not to turn full circle with them to start all over again! There are differing criteria for defining a magazine. And, it’s worth trying to understand – or attempt to at least – every type of magazine media format to know what works for your target readers and content.

Here’s David Blankenship’s great primer to start with. The terms, extracted below, attempt to not only hold magazines as it takes shape in the current landscape, but function across the evolution of this most adaptable medium. We find that it’s a very useful tool for understanding and developing modern magazine media!


A page layout designed sequence of brand topic related and edited content elements printed and bound as a completed periodic edition.

Print magazine distribution occurs via mail based on paid or controlled opt-in subscription, physical newsstands in bookstores and retail settings, or distributed via pick-up locations, special events, direct marketing, membership, or made available as a value added resource for consumers as part of a service experience. Print magazines may also have a higher than 1:1 readership rate based on pass along readership of the physical magazine via person-to-person sharing and leave-behind placement. Circulation of these publications has typically been audited by third party organizations such as Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) or BPA Worldwide to provide credibility for fulfillment and readership to advertisers.


A designed sequence of brand topic related and edited content elements published digitally in a logical linear navigation view or flow based UX including issue contents or visual navigation, capable of user interaction and social media sharing.

Digital magazines are accessed via the Internet (online) by authenticated (registered / logged in) or public audience visitors and viewed using prevalent media screen resolution ranges for desktop and mobile devices. The digital magazine typically utilizes multimedia or interactive elements that accent the medium’s ability to leverage its content in the digital format. Common additional metaphors for this magazine media format include interactive magazine, online magazine, e-magazine, and web magazine.

ABC requires that digital magazine replicas (assumes digital is a print derivative) include the print edition’s full editorial content and advertising, but does not require layout to be identical to the print magazine edition. Audit bureau organizations now also audit digital circulation and overall magazine website audience traffic data. Audit organizations monitor both the execution of the digital delivery notice as well as the actual digital edition readership. Digital magazine platform analytics allow for detailed metrics beyond the pages viewed, time spent, and reader interactions, however the unique issue visits and pageviews is typically the result focus similar to website stats reporting.

Digital magazines may present in the traditional print-like and digital edition horizontal page-flip reading format to accomplish a linear page-by-page user interface. However, new and innovative UX web-based organization and scrolling user interface structures that maintain a sequential editorial composition and leverage a responsive content presentation will eventually be preferred to these fixed page (page flip) layout structure interfaces.


A digital magazine version based on a paginated magazine layout edition presented digitally in a linear page simulated user interface with basic issue content navigation and utility tools based on the reader access application.

The usage of “digital edition” by a publisher implies a multi-channel publishing model where additional delivery formats or editions versions, typically print would also be available for the magazine issue. The digital edition (digital magazine edition) is part of the broader “digital magazine” classification while the usage of the word “edition” designates a derivative format production and not a native digital magazine. Basic content navigation controls simulated page turning or page advancement and the typical basic utility features of the web or reader application access interface include issue table of contents, thumbnail layouts, print, copy, save or share functions.

Digital editions and all digital and online magazine format periodic issues are typically distributed based on an email or app notification alert for new issue availability and access to the server staged web browser based issue presentation unless the digital issue is a downloadable format which would typically be a third party reader application, ePub, or PDF document.


Apple iTunes App Store Newsstand or Google Play Store Newsstand platform based digital magazine edition with sequenced views or pages of issue content and platform based issue navigation and app based utility features.

The Apple iTunes App (iOS device platform) and Google Play Store (Android device platform) Newsstand respective apps represent a single newsstand app that operates as a digital bookshelf for the publishers utilizing this core periodical delivery system specific to the mobile OS (operating system) platform. This master newsstand app allows in app purchases for additional paid issues distribution as well as provides the presentation user interface (UI) and issue notifications. Like all other app purchases specific to each of these two main app store newsstands, Apple and Google receive a percentage of all subscriptions or per issue payments purchased via the app store.

Apple App and Google Play Store Newsstand portals provide access to the series of issues based on the user’s tablet or smartphone OS. There is only one master app store specific newsstand on each of these two leading app store platforms and authorized developers may display the store logo adjacent to their magazine app name. In addition to the official Apple or Google Play Store logo the magazine app would also have a uniquely designed icon for each platform with the magazine name and/or style branding.


An issue management application providing digital magazine edition access compiled within a custom app, app store newsstand, or 3rd party newsstand app installable to the user reader device.

Most apps present content in a digital edition format typically distributed on both Google Play and Apple’s app store where the magazine app version selected by the consumer depends on the Android or iOS operating system of the reader’s hardware phone, phablet, tablet, or other mobile OS device.

The official app store branding button is displayed to identify the app store platform linking to the specific magazine app for download. These apps would have their own separate app store app as a single or series editions. While the Android, iOS, and Amazon mobile app stores maintain the majority of mobile app distribution (which do not work on PC operating system platforms) there will ultimately be other app distribution channels such as Google’s Chrome Web Store which offers desktop browser users a rapidly growing list of apps and extensions.

The magazine app as a tool to access and read issues should not be confused with a brand extension magazine utility apps. A publisher might have several apps for both cross platform issue access and even more apps for specific utility, social interaction, or other brand extension function or revenue objective.

Today, uniquely branding a utility app to a specific purpose is a more effective strategy than aggregating multiple value offerings as an all-in-one app within an existing magazine app where issue access is the consumer core usability expectation. It’s not that these elements aren’t valuable in the app, but the UX cluttered with many channels and utilities is better achieved using the website as the master brand extension utility hub. App platforms typically provide a limited description and marketing capabilities and if distinguished utility value exists for the app then it warrants marketing the app as a separate deliverable for the magazine brand.


Platform app newsstands provide multiple issue based delivery in a similar format to the core app store newsstand.

Users are required to install the Android or iOS based 3rd party branded app to read magazines available through the issue catalog and viewer app. Most publishers utilizing an app based production and newsstand platform promote their app magazine issues as their digital magazine, digital edition, or under their own brand as their iPad, iPhone, mobile, or tablet edition. 3rd party digital publishing partners typically don’t white label the process and the access app branding are visible to end users and the 3rd party app developer has ultimate control over the newsstand app.

Publishers describe the process of downloading the third party reader app for users who wish to view their magazine app edition. The positive side of this model is lower cost and simple production process. The downside is that they publication is not exclusive to the vendor app and thus readers can easily get sidetracked with other publications promoted to any users utilizing the app to view magazine newsstand issues promoted to every user of the 3rd party app. Some vendors do offer the ability to create an exclusive stand alone app based on the technology platform foundation for an additional fee and the publisher would submit the produced app as their own proprietary magazine app.


The online magazine is a digital magazine and defined with a word that places less emphasis on multimedia or other digital user experience enhancements beyond editorial formatting for the digital (online) presentation.

While “Digital Magazine” has been used more prominently among professionals within the publishing industry, and in the early 2000’s this label would differentiate from the many less structured online magazine (e-zine) website startups, the term online magazine has evolved to become a branding term of choice for many digital magazine publishers. Using online magazine maintains the expectation that the publication is available online and implies that there is no print magazine edition. The term online magazine also reduces emphasis for the higher expectation of interactive or technical elements that are often used to accent features of modern digital magazines.


Website representing a magazine brand utilized as the brand central hub to engage and build audience for the defined topic/interest niche with access to multiple content channels and brand extensions as well as core brand magazine issues and subscription process.

The magazine website is typically optimized for content relative to a core topic, activity, industry, location, or similar interest niche. Most websites representing a named magazine brand promote or facilitate the access to the print magazine, digital edition, or digital magazine. The magazine brand website will function as the central hub for the entire magazine and it’s various brand extensions and content channels. The website can also sustain strong ongoing audience interaction for web content published in between the periodic publishing model of the issues based magazine. Daily and weekly newsletters, news, blog, events, live media, resources, guides, community, photos, and other original, curated, and audience submitted content items can be published that might extend issue based content or be published in a web only editorial workflow to include promotion of content for social media and search optimization. The website is becoming the primary 24/7 subscriber and newsletter acquisition channel. The publisher’s website has large growth potential revenue generating capabilities from content access models, registrations, events, webinars, training, display advertising, and other resource and exposure based advertising packages. The website is a critical and primary component for any modern magazine brand and many magazine content management system (CMS) platforms will also soon become the foundation for organizing issue based content for the publisher’s digital magazines.


A website publishing edited original and curated/aggregated content on a periodic basis to provide an organization or archive of issue based content. The content presentation is typically centric to the web publishing system and not a custom layout and design. However, the feature and article content elements may contain a unique design elevating the content value.

A stand alone website simply titled to include the word magazine, but lacking any significant relevance to expected or traditional magazine publishing model elements would simply be a general or special interest niche website and not a magazine. During the early Internet circa 2004, many initial world wide web interest niche style websites were established and branded as “online magazines” or “e-zines.” The growth of branded blogs replaced the popular use of zine and online magazine as terms to represent the topic or niche beat covered by the author.


Tablet based magazines or editions are Magazine Apps.

A tablet is typically 7 to 11 inch display mobile wifi or mobile broadband service device and the layout structure of OS for Apple iPad, iPad Mini, and Android OS tablets is the best form factor to replicate the portrait print magazine single page or in landscape mode a 2 page spread layout presentation structure. Some apps are available in both smartphone and tablet form factor and other are limited to the tablet. Just wait, soon you’ll be able to read your magazine on your watch although I hope to see small wearable tech form factors simply provide notification that your issue is available when you are able to really enjoy the content and reading experience using a tablet in the same way you once cozied up with a print magazine.


Derived from Electronic Magazine during the early Internet era, the e-magazine label has been used to represent everything from custom digital magazines to downloadable (typically PDF format), offline, mobile, epub, html5 and ebook/e-reader format.

Today there exists many digital publishing software and cloud based solutions to convert magazine PDF’s to a more readable and cross-platform friendly “digital magazine” or “online magazine” CMS based formats defined above.

Read full article on ADVONTEMEDIA.

Digital magazines are completely different from print media, giving readers an enhanced online content experience. This shake-up has already reached publishers’ doors. And it’s high time for you to learn more about the new opportunities brought in by the proliferation of mobile and tablet devices. You don’t have to crawl your way alone, Realview can help!