Sisters Pioneer the Art of Digital Mags

Are digital-only magazines a viable business model? Sisters Toni and Thea Neubauer are proving the case with SisterMAG, a digital magazine that fills the gap for intelligent women with wide-ranging interests.

Published bi-monthly, it covers topics from fashion, technology and digital trends to travel, culture and DIY.

Read what Toni and Thea have to say about starting a high-quality magazine and watch the video interview as Toni shares the best content from the current issue and how they market SisterMAG using Paper.li.

How did you get into digital publishing?

Toni has a business background. She worked the past five years in mobile – business development, innovation management and various management roles. She has always been interested in the latest technology trends and in trying out new things.

Thea, who is 6½ years younger, studied publishing. The SisterMAG project started as her master thesis topic. As she has been blogging at Neu4bauer since 2008 it was only a small step to start her own online magazine. Nevertheless, it was a big challenge.

What makes you passionate about magazines?

We believe in great content in a visually appealing form. Of course the Internet has made content available for free and that’s destroyed many established publishing offers. But it has also opened up huge opportunities for all content producers. Content production has been democratized – experts can now publish their own material. In the past this was difficult if not impossible because of the enormous costs which could only be handled by big publishing companies.

What is your business model?

SisterMAG is ad-funded with some paid content, like sisterMAG products or digital downloads. So far we are funding it ourselves and with the first revenues from advertising.

We use a portfolio of advertising forms: traditional (branding) advertising and affiliate marketing for product collages, app recommendations etc. We plan to include a classified section at the end of the magazine for small businesses like the kind of shops you find on etsy. We have also started to sell our own products like the blogger pad.

We think that digital magazines are commercially viable because they combine the advantages of print magazines with the opportunities of the web (everything can be linked-out and tracked, multimedia can be used, other platforms like Twitter and Facebook can be integrated).

Who is your audience? Did you research a niche or is it more a reflection of your personal taste?

Our audience have wide-ranging interests and are well-educated, active, international women between 20 and 45. As we publish in German and English we have an international readership.

We found our niche through Thea’s master thesis. She did a proper analysis of the print women’s magazine market and where the gaps are. We then used the Business Model Canvas to draw up the business plan.

Who are your contributors?

We use a mixture of bloggers, writers, photographers, and topic experts. We do not only curate existing content, but we also have it exclusively produced for SisterMAG. Our contributors benefit from our reach. If there are higher production costs (like photography or materials) we pay. Relationships are temporary, so for each issue the team changes according to the specific theme.

What are the challenges in starting a high-quality magazine?

Challenges are manifold, ranging from getting the first issue out, to technology problems, tight budgets and inexperience in certain aspects of the work. We were lucky that Thea is such a design geek. Finding somebody who translates your high-quality design vision into a magazine might also be a problem.

For the future, where are the opportunities in digital magazines?

In Web 3.0 the editor gains in importance again. As the Internet is now made up of a huge amount of information and content that a single person cannot master, the importance of automatic as well as editorial content curation will increase.

Opportunities are on both sides: if you spot a niche where fragmented, highly specialized content exists but people do not easily find it, a curation model might work. Advertisers will be interested in working with you as they recognize the value of highly involved audiences.

What 5 pieces of advice can you share from your own experience for aspiring digital publishers?

  • Do a proper analysis of the target market and audience
  • Analyse both print and online competitors as readers don’t distinguish between them
  • Create a concept that encompasses more than one issue
  • Find out where your target audience communicates and engage with them there
  • Get your own work organized in such a way that you don’t exploit yourself too much.

What technical solution do you use? How accessible is it to people without publishing experience?

For the desktop version we use Issuu.com. This is very accessible for people without publishing experience.

For the iPhone/IPad and Android versions we work with a company from Berlin specialized in producing apps for publishing clients. As we provide them with the same PDF used for the desktop version, it is also easy.

What would you recommend for publishers who want to offer a magazine with paid subscription?

Both our solutions would allow paid versions of magazines. However, neither of them offer easy integration of advertising where, for example, click-through rates on ads are tracked automatically. We’re looking for a more customized solution next year.

What are your future plans?

We hope that our readers stay with our concept. We would love to publish SisterMAG successfully for a long time. If this works out, we would like to publish further online magazines for other target groups.

Now watch Toni talking about their social media strategy and the October 2012 issue.

Photo credit for Thea & Toni: Ashley Ludäscher 

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  • Tosin Otitoju

    Cool interview.