9 Tips for Starting a Profitable Online Magazine

How do you start an online magazine that has good ideas, attracts subscribers and advertisers, makes a profit, and even creates a community of readers who share tips and support? Maybe you’re thinking about starting a magazine online because you’ve been searching for tips for daddy bloggers or mommy authors and you come up empty every time.

These tips for online magazine startups are inspired by a reader and fellow writer. “I’m tinkering with the idea of starting an online magazine,” says Derrick on 11 Most Popular Types of Magazine Articles – Print & Online. “Do you have any experience with this?”

Yes, I know a few things about starting and writing for online magazines! I call myself a blogger, but I’m more of a magazine-style writer than a blogger. I rarely share personal experiences or blog about my life. Instead, I write tips-based articles that help people solve problems and move forward in life. Like this article 🙂

You want to start an online magazine for profit, but you don’t know where to start. My first tip is to go slow. Take it one step at a time, or you’ll be overwhelmed with ideas, possible problems, decisions and options. And when you get overwhelmed, you also become paralyzed. Paralysis leads to inaction. Inaction won’t help with your magazine startup – unless, of course, you’re starting an online magazine for people who can’t make decisions.

If you want to make money with your online magazine, you need to know two things:

  1. 10 Types of Blogs That Do — and Do Not — Make Money – because even though you’re starting a magazine (not a blog), you do want to earn a profit. Thus, you need to know how to make money online.
  2. 10 Easy Ways to Find Good Ideas for Magazine Articles – because unless you’re sharing good ideas with your readers, your online magazine won’t get off the ground, much less make a profit.

It also helps to be a good writer and editor, have the motivation and discipline of an entrepreneur, and know how to find people who can help you with jobs you can’t or don’t have time to do.

How to Starting a Profitable Online Magazine

I started freelance writing and blogging full-time in 2008; I quit freelancing after two years because blogging was far more interesting, fun, and profitable. My websites were never the traditional types of blogs; rather, they all contained tips-based articles to inform and educate readers.

My “Quips and Tips” websites (now my “She Blossoms” blog and book family) weren’t blogs, really. They were online magazines. I even hired writers! But I quickly discovered I hated administrative details, editing other people’s writing, and even answering emails. I considered hiring an editor to make my online magazine official and even more profitable, but ultimately decided to stick with blogging. I make more than enough money as a blogger; I have no desire to start an online magazine empire.

But you do! So…

1. Schedule time every day to work on your startup

Starting and running a successful online magazine is a full-time endeavor, especially if you’re serious about making this your job. A magazine is a business, and you are an entrepreneur. This means you might need startup money from investors – even if those “investors” are your family members or savings account. Starting anything new involves sacrifice but if you’re motivated and disciplined, you’ll love every minute.

Watch Shark Tank (America) and Dragon’s Den (Canada) to learn how startups become successful. Make time to read other online magazines in the field you’re interested in. Don’t copy their ideas; rather, find ways to expand and insert your own original style into successful online formats.

2. Consider hiring a webmaster and SEO “expert” to help launch your online magazine

I learned everything as I went. I’ve been blogging and freelance writing for over 10 years and rarely hired anyone to do anything. My blogs are my full-time job! Blogging isn’t just about writing – and starting an online magazine isn’t just about writing, either. You’ll deal with website crashes, web host decisions, SEO (search engine optimization) questions, traffic highs and lows, and reader quirks.

But if you’re serious about starting a profitable online magazine, you may not have time to learn and do everything. That’s when you might consider hiring a webmaster and SEO experts. If you have more money than time, I suggest hiring a webmaster who has SEO experience is the way to go. If you have more time than money, then start search the internet for your specific questions and problems.

If you aren’t sure if you should do it yourself or hire someone, read When to Hire a Webmaster for Your Blog.

3. Focus on a specific audience and content

Who are you writing for? The more specific the better. Think of the print and online magazines you like to read: are they about a specific topic such as health and wellness, surfing, writing poetry, photography? That’s because readers want to dive deeper into a specific skillset or area of interest. Who is your target audience?

My first blog was a general Quips and Tips for Achieving Your Goals blog. It was about everything. I quickly discovered that the breakup articles were the most popular so I started Quips and Tips for Love and Relationships. It was a totally separate website (which I still call an online magazine). After you start your online magazines you may not be able to shift direction, so make sure you choose your target audience and topic wisely.

4. Hire content writers

This is used to be the biggest difference between blogs and online magazines, but it’s changed a bit. Blog are usually self-sustained and blogger-focused; online magazines accept and often pay for content from writers and other types of contributors (eg, photographers, illustrators, etc).

online magazine writing tips
10 Tips to Help You Start Your First Online Magazine

Many online magazines don’t pay writers. This is financially awesome, but it affects the quality of the writing. When I was paying writers, I found myself editing articles for hours – which I didn’t expect and I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t paying much but I didn’t expect so many typos, unfinished sentences, huge grammatical errors, and even pink fonts!

If you’re starting an online magazine that accepts articles written by “real people” (as opposed to writers), you don’t need to worry as much about the writing. But if you want quality content from contributors, you have to pay for it. If you’re thinking about hiring writers, read Freelance Writing Pay Rates – How Much Do Writers Charge?

5. Hire content creators who know SEO and are passionate about your magazine content

Advertising for and hiring writers creates a lot of work. I thought hiring writers and starting a profitable online magazine would free up my time. Instead, I found myself dealing with contributors, paying invoices, editing articles and explaining my needs than actually writing. So I stopped hiring writers. I considered hiring an editor or content manager, but decided I didn’t want to run a series of online magazines.

If you hire an editor, content manager, or content creators make sure they understand SEO and love the topic of your magazine. If they’re lukewarm about your startup, their lack of passion will leak onto your website.

6. Consider hiring a salesperson to sell advertising space

Starting an online magazine for profit means selling something on your website. Some startups sell “virtual real estate” on the top or sidebars of their blog, or even as popups. For example, they offer space above the fold for a banner advertisement. I’ve never tried to make money by selling online ad space because I don’t want to bother with sales, marketing, administration, invoicing, etc.

Also, I believe selling advertising space on an online magazine isn’t as profitable as making money with Google and Amazon. However, this depends on the audience and content of the online magazine. If your audience is writers in New York City, then you might make a few hundred dollars a month from people who want to advertise directly to writers (eg, businesses that organize writers’ retreats, writers’ conferences, writers’ degrees, freelance writing jobs, etc).

However, if your online magazine is general, then you’ll have a harder time selling online ad space. Not only will the advertising content not match your articles, but advertisers don’t usually want to pay for ads in magazines that aren’t directed to their target audience.

7. Make money with Google and Amazon

Currently, I’m earning almost $300 per day from Google and about $70 per day from Amazon. Why? Because my articles help readers solve specific problems. And because I have that big fat ugly Google ad in the middle of my blog posts. It’s gross, but it works.

online magazines and writers
Writing for Online Magazines

If your online magazine helps specific people (eg, writers) solve specific problems (eg, write their memoirs, find literary agents, get published, organize writing retreats, etc) and if your articles and ads are targeted to the same subjects, then you will make money. Online magazines often don’t make money because they’re too general. Actually, it’s online newspapers that don’t make money. Their content is news, and isn’t geared towards helping people solve problems.

8. Send newsletters – but not like the big magazines do

“Send a newsletter” is one of those tips you’ve seen everywhere, right? And, rumor has it that email newsletters are a thing of the past. Maybe soon, but not yet. O magazine’s newsletters are crammed full of links, images, advertisements, notices, blurbs. It’s overwhelming! I read O’s print magazine every month, but delete the newsletter immediately. It’s too much.

Ironically, I just started sending my Blossom newsletter regularly. I’ve never wanted to email people directly (in fact, I deplored sending the newsletter at first) – and it was literally painful for me at first. Now I love it. I love connecting with readers, and inspiring them with blossoms and blessings.  You’ll find lots of tips for newsletters and online magazines if you ask Google.

how to start a profitable online magazine
Starting an Online Magazine

In Writing Online: Write Your Dreams To Reality, Sean Platt describes how to write content that attracts readers. He also describes selling, marketing, blogging, social media, SEO, list building, and building a strong reader or fan base for websites or online magazines. If you’re serious about starting an online magazine for profit, read his book.

9. Participate in your readers’ favorite social media sites

I saved the worst for last. Social media isn’t my strong point. I’m a writer, and I just want to be alone in my loft writing and creating images for my articles. I have Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and Pinterest accounts…but I don’t actually interact on them. I just post to them. I know this is the “wrong” way to do social media, but I just don’t have time to interact online.

What type of online magazine are you starting, and how far have you gotten? What does “profitable” mean to you? (ie, how much money does your online magazine have to make to be profitable?) Your thoughts – big and little – are welcome below.

If you’ve decided that online magazines aren’t your thing, read 10 Careers for Writers Who Want to Make Money.


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6 thoughts on “9 Tips for Starting a Profitable Online Magazine”

  1. There are many reasons why content publishers decide to run an online magazine e.g.: creating an additional revenue stream to further monetize content on increasing transparency on the road to building a strong, recognizable brand.

    In my opinion, the most important thing is that an online magazine will be read across all devices: desktop, laptop, mobile, tablet. The first thing to remember is that it has to be built upon the Responsive Design idea without compromising on quality.

    I’ve just written an article on PressPad blog about creating and promoting online magazines and I hope it will be helpful for every publisher 🙂

  2. When you’re starting your first website, it can be very useful to hire an SEO expert. Web optimization is essential, and the small details matter. Our website traffic increased considerably after we hired a company skilled in search engine optimization, but we’re still growing slowly. But the exciting thing is that we are now planning an online magazine! That’s how I found you, by searching for tips for starting an ezine. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for your offer, Karen! But I’m not concerned about the typos and errors in my blog posts. I’ve never been a perfectionist, and as long as my articles are readable, I’m happy with them.

    Of course, if I were actually starting an online magazine that was more formal than my Blossom blogs, I’d definitely consider hiring an editor or proofreader 🙂

    All good things,

  4. I’ve enjoyed a couple of your articles this evening. I enjoy your writing style but sometimes when we write our errors become invisible to us. Could you perhaps use the services of a proofreader?

  5. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I’m glad my tips on how to start an online magazine were helpful! 🙂 I’d love to hear how it goes; do come back and share how these ideas worked for you.

  6. Wow, thank you so much for this wonderful post. I have learnt a lot, I must say and I’m going to implement everything you mentioned in this article. I have my own online magazine which I started in 2013 and I earn less than $2 a month from Google Adsense and nothing at all from my affiliate business. Will come back later with feedback. .