All magazines need a digital strategy for publications. About 45% of magazine readers are purely digital (smartphone/tablet/PC). Here we review the Top 5 digital magazine publishing tools. We looked at a selection of criteria for both the publisher and the end user (consumer) experience. The features we considered were; ease of upload, mobile versioning, ability to share across social media, UX/UI for publisher and consumer, price for publisher and reliability. We’ve worked with these to some degree for clients, so we have direct experience.
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#1 – Issuu
This company started out in Denmark and still has their main HQ there but is also based in Palo Alto, though we think Boston or Nova Scotia would’ve been just as good. We rank them as the top because they offer great pricing, commissions for publishers, functionality and a slick UI and most importantly a dedicated focus to helping publishers drive revenues. Working with Issuu is easy and requires no technical expertise (i.e. coding). They also have a new feature for getting into AppleNews that’s unique and we feel is critical. Upload times for publications are the fastest we’ve seen and also very accurate, which is important (we had trouble with #2 Joomag, quite a lot of trouble). For the consumer, they can view as a flipbook or Issuu formats beautifully for tablet and smartphone. Pricing is reasonable and although their take on any subscription sales is a bit high, it’s also worth it because you get excellent support, webinars for new features and innovations on their end and they really support their publishers, making you feel valued. Plus, they have good processing, storage and delivery of content. They offer “groups” as well on the premium plan with 3 people and if you need to heavy duty plan, you can have more people. This is a superb feature. Issuu also has a good analytics package.
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So what’s the downsides? Not much really. Onboarding could be a little easier and sometimes we’ve had to re-upload issues. The Groups are good, but they chose a very odd way of setting them up that goes against all other similar ways of managing group accounts, so you may get some frustrations getting groups sorted. Far and away, Issuu is the best option. The excellent UX/UI, support and on boarding a dedicated focus on magazines with an understanding of how the business works. The company is innovative as well and hungry to be the best. Danish sensibilities. Denmark after all, gave the world Bang & Olufsen.
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#2 Joomag
This is a pretty impressive company with a lot of features and functionality. Joomag is aimed at larger publishers who have multiple publications. It can certainly work for a single magazine publisher. Joomag offers CRM tools as well with conversion tools for funnel building. Whereas Issuu is about uploading your PDF’s, Joomag offers this, plus templates or building from scratch (but it’s not a flatplan layout, which isn’t good.) The UX/UI is clean and fairly straightforward. It’s pricier than Issuu but does more. They also offer fairly decent analytics, but not as good as Issuu in our view.
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Joomag also doesn’t give you AppleNews or have the cool story feature of Issuu and isn’t as good with the paywall flexibility either. Commissions can be higher than Issuu and it just may be more comprehensive a tool. So why did we rank it #2? Pricing and that it’s just a more enterprise driven solution and can be a bit much for smaller publications. Service is good but not as good as Issuu. Onboarding also takes much longer than Issuu. The basic package is not very comprehensive so really you’re looking at USD$1,700/yr just to start plus commission costs versus the pro package at Issuu for $430/yr. Granted, Joomag has a CRM and lead management tool, but we don’t see that as a huge enough differentiator. Joomag also has an impressive list of publications, but then again, they’re more enterprise focused and nothing wrong with that at all. We also felt that Joomag doesn’t have as much passion for publishers as Issuu and we think this is important. Magazine publishers are passionate about what they do.
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#3 Yumpu
Not sure where the name came from, but they’re the closest to Issuu and not that close. They’re based out of Switzerland and they haven’t invested much in English language translation. One neat feature they have is that you can create your video to promote your publication. Support is quite decent and the UX/UI is nicely designed, but can get a little complex. They do offer slightly more functionality than Issuu but it means taking a little longer to get sorted with Yumpu. They do offer the ability to go back to older editions and edit things. They have a nice way of sharing to Facebook, but it’s not as slick as Issuu and sharing to other social accounts isn’t as easy either and no option for AppleNews or GoogleNews.
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Pricing is a little high and a bit confusing, they could simplify it. There’s no analytics unless you have Google Analytics and we see that as a downside. If you want to do managed subscriptions, you have to pay a hefty price to play, unlike Issuu. Commissions can be confusing…be sure to read your end-user agreement!
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Yumpu is good and has some great fine controls, but is a bit confusing to get to know and takes more time for on boarding than Issuu. But Yumpu also has a good catalogue of magazines.
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#4 Calameo
Although not bad and a fairly decent UI, Calameo is a bit more restrictive in how you use it.   They’re based in Paris. You can publish in advance, but we’re not sure that’s a huge benefit to most magazines. Social sharing is alright, but they leverage Google Analytics like Yumpu, which we think is a cheap way of saying “oh, yeah, we do analytics.” Issuu and Joomag do a much better job with native analytics. Like Issuu you can insert video and embed links for ads…yawn. That’s table stakes. They have a nice API for workflow integration, but you’ll have to consider your flat-plan process/tools. Pricing is reasonable, but given the size of publications and if you’re a serious magazine publisher you’ll need the Platinum program which is about $640/yr.
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We found customer service and onboarding to be reasonable and they’re evolving the product. If the roadmap is half decent then we think they could dislodge Yumpu in the next year and a few more tweaks could have them up with Issuu and Joomag. One thing they’ll need to add to be serious is paywall/subscription models (which could improve their revenue model) and playing with Google and Apple would be nice.
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#5 FLIPHTML5
It’s apparent that a software engineer thought they could do marketing and came up with the name. Sigh. FlipHTML5 also does magazines. They seem to be going after anyone who wants to publish a PDF into a “magazine” format and that’s okay. There is definitely a market and they’re in a niche. Although they’re number 3, they don’t come close to Issuu or Yumpu in terms of being focused on magazines. They have a reasonable ability to share through social, but won’t get you into AppleNews or GoogleNews. You can manage subscriptions reasonably well. It’s cheap for pricing, but if you want as cheap as possible, then you may be missing what your audience wants. They have an Enterprise version for $999 but that means on-prem management. Features and functionality get confusing quite fast.
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It’s a reasonable solution for a publication that wants to get down into the technical weeds and doesn’t mind more onboarding time and learning how things work.
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Others
There are other tools that are rather cheesy and seem more oriented towards publishing low-end magazines and well, just about anything in PDF form. UniFlip and AxMag are examples. But AxMag is software you buy and run on-prem. Don’t be tempted. If you’re a serious magazine publisher, you need a proper digital magazine publishing option like Issuu or Joomag.
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Concluding
If you’re a serious magazine publisher, the two to consider are Issuu and Joomag. They get the business and understand that print and digital need to work together. We like that Issuu is truly digitally focused and gets digital syndication. Joomag is a tool you’ll have to get deeply into. Issuu and Joomag also don’t try to interfere in workflow for your print production and make uploading easy.
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Yumpu and Calameo have some work to do, but Yumpu is a good product. Calameo doesn’t seem to fully understand the publishing world however, but they’re working on it. In our view Issuu and Joomag are the most comprehensive and serious players. Issuu and Joomag have solid Silicon Valley connections and it seems to have paid off for them as well. They both understand the “network effect” of today. We think they should both look more closely at API’s and could take some lessons from CCI’s CUE product and ARC Publishing, which are newspaper CMS’s. We simply see Issuu as being clean and incredibly focused, which we think is better for most magazine publishers.
Do you have a digital magazine publishing app or tool we should look at? Let us know in the comments. Also, tell us your experience. We’d love to hear from you. If you’re a magazine publisher looking for digital advantage, lets talk!

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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