For any magazine, the struggle is real to manage the content, editorial collaboration and sorting the ads that make a magazine possible. Today, any magazine that is print has to be digital in some form or another. The toughest part is always the layout and what goes where. That’s where flatplan tools come into play.
We looked at the top four available online  and dove into their features, capabilities and pricing. We looked at flatplan tools that are considered to be SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) meaning you use them in a web browser like Chrome, FireFox or Safari. You pay a monthly fee to access the software. The upside to SaaS tools like this is you don’t have to go through the rigamarole of installing software and getting it working. It’s also like a nice backup plan as everything is in the cloud.
Note: We are vendor agnostic. We have not been paid by any of these companies. We do not sell or promote any one solution.
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Far and away our favourite. Incredibly easy to use, lightweight and gets out of your way to let you bring a magazine to life. It also has slick team collaboration and moving a spread around or counting ads is quick and easy. Using labels, tagging and colours in an intuitive way, Blinkplan is very elegant. And focused on being a true flatplan software.
You can easily clone a flatplan if you’re seeking issue continuity or working on custom publications for different clients. Stitching in supplements? Easy, you can quickly specify where they go. Setting up Blinkplan was the easiest of all of them as well. Again an elegant process by a company that really understands this key process.
The company has been around for 10 years, so they’ve got solid experience and we’d guess they work with what’s called “Agile Methodology” which means they’re constantly improving an already excellent product. Uptime is solid and they’re quick to respond to questions and support needs.
Blinkplan is focused on one thing – being a great flatplan tool. They don’t try to be more than what they are and that’s important. Pricing ranges from $15-$69 a month depending on number of publications and file sizes. It’s really the best pricing for what you get in our opinion.
We liked this one as second best. While offering similar features to Blinkplan, it seems Flat-Plan tries to be a little more to more people, such as small books or papers. The pricing is cheaper, but we’re not sure that’s a good thing. It doesn’t allow you to easily move spreads around, which is key when new ads come in. There’s less tagging and colour category options as well.
Flat-Plan enables you to download to Excel for ad management which is nice, but brings you back to Excel sheets and workflow interruption, unlike Blinkplan. We’d suggest that Flat-Plan is a hybrid tool. It does work extremely well and has good uptime and is based out of Budapest in Hungary.
This is a mature product and has some great features, but goes beyond just flatplan management, which is a core strength of the product. MagManager links to two online payment apps, Xero and Cashflow, which is helpful, but not so much in North America. As well, MagManager helps you to push out to digital channels if you need that.
If you don’t use Dropbox, you’ll need to use it with MagManager, this is good but restrictive. We think a tool like this should also connect with Google Drive and Box at the very least. You may see the cost of Dropbox rise as well given their nasty way of file duplication to push up your storage costs. We recommend publishers stay away from Dropbox ourselves, but that’s just us. Collaboration is easy in MagManager and the flatplan tool is nice with drag and drop and easy reordering. UK based, this tool costs around USD$40 or CAD$60 to start and goes up from there.
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This is a very nice tool. It comes in fourth on our list because it tries to be a little more than a flatplan tool, offering CRM, marketing and circulation management as well as production. The software has a reasonably good design (UX) for usability, but seems more driven by software engineers with design as an afterthought. That’s a crucial differentiation in the publishing world. It’s also a much higher-end pricing range, starting at $100/month but likely because it does more than flatplan. It’s the priciest compared to the rest and we’re not sure it needs to be that high.
If you want CRM tools and need more backend, then this may be a more a viable option for you. Uptime and reliability seems good, but we did note some online discussions regarding length of time for the company to respond to inquiries. But that may be better now. So RunMags goes well beyond just flatplan, but it does it well. It all depends on what your needs are and the business case you want to make.
Concluding
Both MagManager and RunMags are more “whole business” solutions than strictly flatplan apps. If this is what you’re looking for, then they’re definitely worth checking out. It will mean revising your workflows much more however. Our goal was to consider flatplan as it’s own workflow process and hence we placed Blinkplan at the top of the list because, well, that’s what they do very, very well. Switching a whole workflow and software tools can be a challenge, especially with larger teams.
One key thing to remember when you’re bringing in new software tools is the adaptability of your team. Some people resist changes, others embrace and most sit in between. But it’s the people that are always the biggest challenge. We can help with this part of the process.
If you’re using an Excel workbook, paper, Adobe and a mishmash of tools, then you’ll be amazed at how all these tools above can help. It’s really about looking at what your needs are, how much efficiency you want and how you’re planning to grow your business.
This is a quick dive, not a deep dive into the tools. We have more comprehensive analysis available for consulting projects.

About the Author Giles Crouch

Giles is managing partner of Ekspansiv, a global digital business advisory firm to news media companies . A polymath with over 20 years experience in the digital world, Giles brings together marketing communications, digital anthropology and digital behavioural economics for client projects. He has extensive experience with news media and publishing. Giles is also regularly interviewed by media regarding technology and industry trends. He has completed over 300 digital research projects for clients around the world. Giles co-founded the Ice Awards, an advertising creative awards program in 2001. His clients have included, newspaper, magazine and book publishers as well as pure-play digital media companies. He occasionally works as interim CIO or CDO and senior marketing guidance.

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