Business Overview


Magazine publishers whose work is solely available online create and publish editorial content that might be supported by paid circulation or advertising revenue, or by a combination of both. Online magazines, also known as e-zines or digital magazines, feature articles, photography, typography and graphic layout design that can resemble print magazines. Some blogs are also published like e-zines, with guest post writers and advertising support.

Who is this business right for?

The successful online magazine publisher has a skill set that includes the talents of a writer, editor, web developer, webmaster, advertising salesperson and business person. Your goal is to develop a niche audience and content to regularly fit your theme.

You should be highly motivated and driven to continually provide fresh, rich content that will make readers come back for more and also recommend it to their friends.

What happens during a typical day at an online magazine?

Your online publishing business will involve the following responsibilities.

  • Write or commission content that fits the theme of your e-zine
  • Find or commission photography and artwork that complements the look of the magazine and the featured content
  • Edit submissions for punctuation, spelling, tone and clarity
  • Implement a social media strategy to tease reader interest in current or archived articles and pull them to your site
  • Strategize new ways of monetizing your publication, either through ad programs such as Google AdSense, paid circulation or your own space sales efforts

What is the target market?

You’ll know your customer profile as soon as you’ve identified your magazine editorial slant. Many publishers start with their own lifestyle interests, hobbies or career fields, because these are topics they know well.

Furthermore, your customers will likely be readers and very involved in the digital world. (Although magazines with a greater mix of visuals and video content can be geared toward non-readers.)

How does an online magazine make money?

Most e-zine income is from advertising. You can either chase down the ads yourself or rely on an advertising app like Google AdSense. Google will figure out the ads that fit the theme of your digital magazine and place them as viewer links. In this pay-per-click model, every time a reader follows the link to the advertiser’s content you’re paid a fixed amount. The larger your traffic volume, the more clicks you are likely to generate, thus increasing your ad revenue.

You can also contact advertisers yourself, but this approach would likely succeed only if you have a niche theme that can cater to companies selling related products. For example, a long-distance running e-zine based in Ohio could run ads for different running shoes stores in Cleveland and the surrounding area.

The more you narrowly you define your subject matter and audience, the easier it can be to appeal to advertisers.

What is the growth potential for an online magazine?

Your income rises with traffic to your site. As your e-zines grows in traffic, it becomes of greater interest to ad programs such as Google AdSense. And at some point you might consider putting a paywall in front of at least some of your content.

Getting Started


What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful online magazine?

Since content is king on an e-zine you must either be a good writer or at least someone who recognizes good writing ability in others. You should understand search engine optimization and SEO keyword placement. It’s also important to be able to collaborate comfortably with writers, photographers and other creatives and to be fairly well versed in digital publishing.

What are the costs involved in opening an online magazine?

You could literally start your online magazine without spending a penny. That doesn’t mean that you should—but you can. It’s possible to build a website for little or no money, or publish on WordPress or Blogger platforms at no cost. You can promote your magazine for free via such social media venues as Facebook and Twitter. You could write all of the content yourself or get others to write for no cost except links to their own zines or blogs. Also, you could shoot your own photos and lay out your magazine with free graphic design tools.

Since your skills are probably sharper in some of these fields than in others, your magazine might not look or read as professionally as it would if you hired expert writers, graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, web developers, and marketing experts.

All of these subject experts can be hired on a freelance or project basis, for rates that might not exceed a few hundred dollars per issue. As your business grows, there might be a point when you decide that the time is right to hire full-time employees to handle some of these responsibilities.

What are the steps to start an online magazine?

Once you're ready to start your online magazine, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  2. Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your online magazine is sued.
  3. Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  4. Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your online magazine keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  5. Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
  6. Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  7. Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  8. Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  9. Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for for free.

Growing Your Business


How to promote & market an online magazine

Use social media to increase awareness and generate excitement for your publication. Also consider advertising in e-zines, blog posts and websites that draw similar demographics.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Draw both readers and advertisers from the online communities that are relevant to your publication. Send out e-newsletters to alert subscribers to new content and to encourage sign-ups. Also, encourage subject experts who have their own audiences to write for your e-zine, since they’ll promote their work to their own audiences.

How and when to build a team

There are many different types of jobs associated with employment at an e-zine. Initially, you’ll probably wear every hat, but as revenue and your job responsibilities both increase, you will eventually need support.

Your first outside hire should be to cover responsibilities which are either beyond your comfort zone or a time drain. For instance, if you’re more of a tech expert than a content strategist or writer, you might want to keep the web development and webmaster duties to yourself and hire an editor to write and edit SEO-rich content, and also to recruit freelance writers and photographers.

Legal Considerations


Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

Copyright Licensing

In most states, it is necessary to obtain a copyright license for a magazine. This article includes information on how to register your magazine with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Reduce Personal Liability

Structuring your business as a limited liability company (LLC) ensures your personal assets are protected in the event your business is sued.

What is an LLC?

Form an LLC in 5 easy steps

Earning Potential


How much can you charge customers?

Most online magazines provide free content. Revenue is generated through advertising. Ad programs like Google AdSense will pay you on a per-click basis for ads that you allow to be hosted on your digital real estate. Check out this thorough explanation of how Google AdSense works.

On the other hand, once your e-zine has achieved wide acceptance in your area, you can explore the possibilities of a subscriber-based revenue stream. For example, noted tech guru Marco Arment got subscribers to pay $1.99 for each biweekly issue of The Magazine, his general interest e-zine, and turn a significant profit even while paying his writes $800 per feature.

What are the ongoing expenses for an online magazine?

Most of your expenditures will go to the creatives you hire, most likely on a freelance basis, to regularly supply your magazine with content. The cost for this can be as little as an exchange of links and a promo plug to several hundred dollars per article, or more. Naturally, you can expect a higher quality of content (and less time spent editing) if you pay a higher amount for professional writing talent. As with anything, you get what you pay for.

You might also get to the point where you’re able to explore online advertising opportunities or to hire marketing communications professionals to promote your magazine. This cost will vary by the talent you hire and the scope of work.

How much profit can an online magazine make?

Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, who bills herself as The Adventurous Writer at TheAdventurousWriter.com, has this to say about the earning potential of her online publication. “Currently, I’m earning almost $300 per day from Google and about $70 per day from Amazon.” Pawlik-Kienlen’s earnings are all through Google and Amazon’s ad programs, giving a sense of what kind of revenue is possible for a successful e-magazine.

Marco Arment, publisher of The Magazine, says that his 25,000 subscribers yields a profit of about $35,000 per month after he pays writers, editors, copy editors, illustrators, photographer and others.

How can you make your business more profitable?

The e-newsletter you publish to promote your magazine can be a separate profit center if you offer links to advertisers with products or services that complement the theme of your magazine. Also, consider putting premium content behind a payroll for subscribers only. If this proves popular, you might choose to, at some point in the future, make your e-zine available only to paying subscribers.

Another profitable venture might be to host seminars, workshops or other events, thus creating networking opportunities for your readership that reflect your editorial focus.

Next Steps

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