To help you select the best digital publishing software or tools for your business, we have built a shortlist of the best platforms and reviewed these for you. And as a free bonus, we also included a straightforward list of must-ask questions that you can use in your decision process when selecting digital publishing platforms.

Introduction

But first, let's make sure we are all on the same page with the definition of digital publishing.
What is digital publishing?
Digital publishing (often referred to as online publishing or e-publishing), is the publication on the web or on electronic carriers of magazines, e-books, white papers, reports, or any form of content that is typically long-form.

Some digital publications are sold as subscriptions for monthly magazines while others are explicitly created as free content and are monetized through advertising or used for (content) marketing purposes as digital magazines, reports, ebooks or catalogs.

What does digital publishing mean?

A Digital Publishing Platform is a software solution that enables marketers, publishers, and designers to create, edit, and publish content online and as an app in app stores.

A digital publishing solution makes it efficient and easy to create content online and generate traffic and possible monetization from online content. It enables the transition from print and PDF-based formats to responsive, mobile-friendly reading experiences.

As more and more consumers use their mobile devices to consume content, we have seen significant growth in digital publishing software available to brands and publishers.

Some platforms work best for the paid content model, while others are more suited for content marketing and organic search.

We have divided up these different digital publishing solutions into two categories:

1. Web publications or 'digital first' content experiences on HTML/CSS

Typically used for brand publishing and content marketing

2. Native apps (and thus available on Apple Newsstand and GooglePlay)

Typically used more for 'traditional', subscription (and advertising)-driven style of magazine publishing.

What is a digital publishing platform?


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Web technology vs Apps As A Digital Publishing Platform:

Everyone’s heard the term “app” thrown around, but many don’t know the difference between a (mobile) web publication and native apps. In essence, the big difference is as follows: It comes down to where each of them lives.

Whether you want to call them mobile apps, responsive publications/sites, or mobile publications/sites, the point is that web publications live on the Internet. In stark contrast, native apps live on the handheld device itself. There’s even a third choice, which is the hybrid app. Nowadays, it's becoming difficult to distinguish between the web and native apps. Nonetheless, significant differences remain, and we’ll walk you through them.
While you may have been led into thinking otherwise, a web publication or web app is a website that you can access on your handheld device.

Though they may appear like a native app, they aren’t built as such. Usually written in HTML5 and accessed by a browser, a mobile site has its own URL.
    In this corner, we have a native app. As explained above, it lives on your handheld device.
    Accessed through the icons that you see on your device’s home screen, it needs to be installed via an app store such as the Apple App Store or Google Play.
    Only developed particularly for one platform, it can utilize all of the features of the device. This means that a native app can use your device’s camera, its contact list, its compass, its GPS, and much more. It also supports gestures (whether it’s an app-defined gesture or a more standard one based on an operating system), working offline and the device’s notification system.
A hybrid app is essentially a mix of both a mobile website and a native app. For instance, it needs HTML to be rendered in a browser (just like a mobile site), but it also exists in an app store and utilizes a lot of the features of your device.

What Web Publications Are

What Native Apps Are

What Hybrid Web/App Publications Are

Much of the time, a hybrid app will be created as a so-called wrapper for an already live webpage.

This is usually because the app creator wishes to obtain a presence in an app store, but without expending material effort on developing a completely different app. Another reason for the popularity of these apps is the reduction of development costs that comes by way of cross-platform development.

Digital publishing platform comparison

IDEAL FOR:
  • Brand publishing / Content Marketing
  • Advertising-driven Media & Publishing
  • Company / internal magazines & publications
The needs and wants of communications, marketing and advertising departments tend to differ significantly from traditional paid content publishing needs. For brands and advertisers, content helps to realize a conversion and needs a bigger "instant rapport" factor.

Therefore, these features, are of primordial importance to help achieve business results:
  • great user experience,
  • easy & smooth access,
  • fast loading speed,
  • SEO and
  • analytics

On the other hand, features such as easy monetization of the content are less relevant here.

Web HTML/CSS-based content applications are stored on a remote server delivered over the Internet through a web browser. This means that readers never have to install anything. The applications can be reached on any web-connected device, whether that be desktop or mobile.

Native Apps: Digital Publishing Platform for the App Stores

IDEAL FOR:

  • Publishing for audiences that favor app stores
  • Field sales- and marketing tools
The following publishing tools are for those looking to create native apps (applications downloaded and installed on smartphones or tablets). Mainly oriented towards a publishing audience, tools in this section will help you to create a native app for stores such as Apple’s Newsstand and GooglePlay. The benefits are:
  • Out-of-the-box monetization of the content, thanks to the presence on these stores
  • Content is downloaded and thus suitable for off-line content needs
  • Integration with InDesign
*Note - while native apps work superbly on mobile, they do not offer you a solution on desktop. So if delivering a desktop experience is essential for you to, look into other options.

Here are the best publishing tools and platforms for creating native apps:
Previously known as the Digital Publishing Suite/Solution, Adobe's product is now the 'Mobile Content' component of a solution group called the Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) which in turn is part of the enterprise content solutions. The Mobile Content solution allows you to produce digital, interactive magazines as apps.

Adobe Mobile Content - Experience Manager Score ⁕⁕⁕

Adobe has a complete product, and since they are also the makers of InDesign, the integration seems a no-brainer. The offering is quite comprehensive, and you can make a highly customized app. By placing the product in the enterprise solution group, Adobe has given a signal as to the future direction of the product: use cases like information distribution for field sales reps and even retailers.

The only downside seems to be the price point. This digital publishing solution is now part of the enterprise portfolio, and sources have told me that pricing starts at 50,000 USD yearly.

4. Adobe review

Mag+ offers two products: Designd and Semble. Designd allows you to create digital magazines on tablets and phones starting from InDesign. Semble offers you a visual creation environment to create your content apps from scratch.

Mag+ Review ⁕⁕⁕⁕
Mag+ positions itself as a 'creative and efficient Adobe DPS alternative. They will even convert your DPS layers as part of the contract. So if you are tired of Adobe's digital publishing platform for some reason, then maybe Mag+ could be the solution for you.
With a price point between 999$ to 2999$ monthly, the price point is not low but should be within reach for many publishers.

5. Mag+ review

Aquafadas allows publishers to convert their existing print layout from InDesign. Aquafadas offers content 'enrichment' tools like video, animation, etc. Aquafadas is used by Elle, Paris Match and Men's Fitness.

Aquafadas Review ⁕⁕⁕
Just like Adobe, Aquafadas has strongly oriented itself to the corporate market and is focussing a lot on sales enablement. A neat feature of the Aquafadas solution is ConversionFlow. It allows you to upload your (old) ePDF's to a server and to retrieve them as an app. Publisher pricing starts at $720 for a single issue, and $4,200 for multiple issues.

6. Aquafadas review

Paperlit has kept its focus on 'pure' digital publishing for magazines and brands. It offers you the possibility to export your app from Indesign.

Paperlit Score ⁕⁕⁕
Paperlit also offers a web-reader with integrations into subscription management solutions such as Dovetail, CDS and Cambey & West.

7. Paperlit review

iMirus integrates printed content with multimedia interactivity to create branded apps accessible on smartphones and tablets. Clients include Allstate and Porsche.

iMirus ⁕⁕
I have seen iMirus in action at conventions in the past, so I still keep them on the list. But it seems hard to find new examples of their work.
Magloft allows you to create 'responsive' content that will be easily readable on smartphones and tablets. Magloft offers a visual drag-and-drop editor allowing you to create and design your content. Clients are magazines like Mocha Kid, ReAfrica, and Homeopathy first.

Magloft Review ⁕⁕
Magloft's pricing starts at about 100 USD monthly, bringing it in reach for beginning magazines.

8. iMIRUS review

9. Magloft review

Readz helps brands and organizations create beautiful interactive publications, like reports, magazines, brochures, and more.

Readz offers a drag-and-drop visual editor, with pre-made modules and a wide variety of animations.
Readz offers brands and organizations a powerful content publishing platform. Readz allows you to start from InDesign, build with templates or from scratch.
The ZMAGS Creator solution is ideally suited for eCommerce brands, lifestyle and fashion
Zmags offers content creation software without the code. Zmags promises its clients that they will stand apart with rich digital experiences.
Zmag is used by Neiman Marcus, Marks & Spencers, Godiva and Vivienne Westwood.

Zmags Score ⁕⁕⁕⁕

Zmags has concentrated its technology efforts entirely on the fashion and retail sector. Like Readz does with Shopify, Zmags offers integrations with many eCommerce platforms that allow brands to create shoppable content.

If you are not a retail company, you will not fall into Zmags' ideal customer profile.

If you don't want shoppable content, then Zmags is not your choice.
If you are in retail though, then Zmags can offer you embeddable, responsive (mobile + desktop) shoppable content, allowing you to drive sales directly from your content.

On the min side, speed tests reveal that Zmags' content is rather slow (even when surfing the Zmags website a spinner regularly appears), and the quality of their technical SEO is doubtful at a minimum.

Zmags pricing model places them in the mid- to high range.
JOOMAG
Joomag allows you to do free or paid publishing and offers a Newsstand option.

JooMag Score ⁕⁕⁕

JooMag will offer you a flipbook or a templated approach to create your magazines. You will have to start from scratch, but the templates allow you to get results in a reasonable time nevertheless.
The templates are somewhat restrictive, and as a result, brands using this digital publishing platform wanting to create a branded look should not select this technology.
Readz Score ⁕⁕⁕⁕
Readz is undoubtedly the most business-results focused solution in this group of communications/marketing/advertising oriented online digital publishing platforms.

Designers will love the granular control and total creative freedom offered in the Readz design studio.

But there is also a powerful marketing stack so marketers and advertisers can drive their content goals:
  • forms,
  • CTA's,
  • a strong focus on SEO, as well as
  • integrated analytics about actual conversions on your content.

Readz also offers the possibility to restrict access to content, for example, for internal, partner, or member-oriented publications.

The Readz plans offer unlimited publications, and Readz is an obvious choice for companies looking for a solid ROI on content and advertising.
You can check the Readz website here or request a demo.
What makes Readz stand out is :
- support for flipbooks. The advantage of this is that you can use a single platform to host your old PDFs as flipbooks and start upgrading content to responsive formats when it suits you.
- InDesign import, to quickly offer better (mobile) experiences from and
- a powerful design studio to offer intense customization to fit your brand.

Digital publishing for brands & organizations

Digital Publishing solutions have begun to vary from each other quite a bit, as they serve vastly different purposes within digital publishing. Here is a list of some of the best digital publishing platforms which we will review:

BEST DIGITAL PUBLISHING PLATFORMS 2019
  • Readz
  • ZMAGS
  • JooMag
  • Woopie
  • Adobe
  • MAG+
  • Aquafadas
  • Paperlit
  • iMirus
  • Magloft

1. Readz review

2. ZMags review

3. JooMag review

If you are a marketer or designer and you are looking to create content for a brand, asking these questions will help you make the right technology choice! 1. Can I add interactivity to my content? Slideshows, video backgrounds, animations, full-screen layouts...? What are the limitations? Why it matters:
You want to add some level of interactivity on the page to enhance your design and increase engagement. Knowing the technology’s limitations upfront will save you time creating an execution strategy. 2. How mobile-friendly is the content publishing platform? Is it a ‘responsive’ experience or just a sized-down version of the desktop? Why it matters:
Mobile is becoming ever-more important. Making your content available in a mobile-optimized format will make sure that you get you good traffic from mobile. 3. How well does the platform handle different screen sizes and ‘modern’ design? Is the content easily readable on all devices and do fonts scale with the screen size? Why it matters:
Your content should look good on all devices: mobile and desktop. Scaling fonts and full-screen layouts are necessary elements of modern design. 4. How fast do your pages load? What mechanisms are in place for faster loading? Why it matters:
Users and Google are adamant about loading speed and getting your content quickly in front of your reader. Fast-loading pages have lower bounce rates and increase SEO results. 5. How easy is it to update content? Are changes instantly visible? Why it matters:
Whether it is updates, corrections, and additions - you will want to see those go live immediately. And instant availability is excellent for when there is a rush job. 6. How easy is it to share content on social media? Can I customize the sharing settings? Does the platform offer tools to share images on social? Why it matters: You want to be able to add custom social sharing buttons that deliver good-looking results on all social media platforms, including images. 7. How can I manage and optimize my SEO settings and metadata for pages and images? Why it matters:
You want to be able to see, manage, and update the SEO meta tags for your content, including your images - this will save you time. 8. Can I build call-to-actions and forms in your platform? Why it matters:
You will want to add call-to-actions in your content, whether you are building email lists, getting demo or appointment requests, or for any other goal. Being able to create these within the platform is faster (not having to load another external service) and will keep your design consistent. 9. Do you offer in-platform analytics for traffic and conversions? Do you integrate with external analytics tools? Why it matters:
It is convenient to have an ‘executive’ overview of your content’s performance within your creation platform. Being able to monitor its success by seeing how the goals and call-to-actions perform is an integral part of measuring the ROI of your content. 10. Do visitors and readers have to download or install software? Why it matters:
If people need to download files, install software, or even log in to something like iTunes, it will have a significant negative impact on your conversion and open rates. Your flow should be as smooth as possible without any unnecessary demands on the visitor. 11. Which other tools in my marketing stack do you integrate with? Why it matters:
Whether it is with your email solution or marketing automation platform, check where you can hook up and connect your future content.

12. How well (if at all!) do you support accessibility features?
Why it matters:
First of all, there is a tremendously crucial humane factor at work here. Just for human reasons, accessibility should be a must for all digital publishing platforms. But also, accessibility is a legal requirement in the USA. 13. And lastly, ask for a live example from a medium-sized customer, not one of the in-house produced showcases or larger budget ones. Why it matters:
You will want to check for yourself how the content looks on mobile, how fast it loads, etc. See what you can achieve with a moderate budget (even if you have a large budget, this is good to know).

13 questions to ask vendors of digital publishing solutions.

10 Reasons To Start with Interactive Digital Publishing

Creating a digitally interactive publication can seem difficult, time consuming and expensive. Is it even necessary? If you want to increase sales (or any other business goal) and not get left in the dust by your competition, the answer is resoundingly yes. You might think you can’t afford the right digital publishing tools to create great-looking content, but the truth is you can’t afford not to. Given that we are such visual creatures, simply throwing up a page with endless product images or a novel of text doesn’t get the job done. Instead, it’s vital to present your viewers with a good-looking design and story that draws them in and makes them want to stay. But hurry, because you only have 3.42 seconds before your visitors make a judgment on the credibility of your page based on your design! Great-looking, interactive content, or the lack thereof, impacts all aspects of your business, whether you realize it or not.

Design: Who cares what my digital publication looks like? It’s the content that matters, right?

1. 45% of consumers say they make judgments about the credibility of online content based on design alone. 2. 2/3 of people would rather read something beautifully designed than something plain.
3. Visual content drives 567% more inbound links than text-only. 4. 65% of senior marketing executives believe that visual assets (photos, video, illustrations and infographics) are core to how their brand story is communicated. Advertising, anybody?

Video: I’m in digital publishing. Do I really need to think about the possibility to add in some videos?

5. 51.9% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI. 6. 53% of customers feel more favorable towards companies whose mobile sites provide instructional video content. 7. Syndacast says 74% of all internet traffic as of 2017 is video.

Here’s what marketers already publishing interactive content had to say:

8. 81% agree that interactive content grabs attention more effectively than static content. 9. 79% agree that interactive content can have reusable value, resulting in repeat visitors and multiple exposures. 10. 66% agree that audience engagement has increased since their organization started using interactive content. Whether you’re already creating an interactive experience or not, you’ll want - and dare I say need, a digital publishing platform that allows you to add interactivity to your content without an external service. This will make your life much easier now, and in the future.

Visual content: I publish a lot of text on my website, isn’t that enough?

A final word

It is never easy to compile a list of digital publishing platforms in an industry that’s so heavily populated. For every solution mentioned, there must be dozens, if not more, alternatives out there. If there's anything I might have missed that deserves to be on this list, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Bart De Pelsmaeker
Bart is a digital marketing veteran and co-founder of Readz, a platform used by brands of all sizes to create superior content experiences. His writing has been featured in Sparksheet, Business2Community, Skyword and other martech publications.

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Native Apps Or Web Tech: When To Use Which?

Does it make sense yet? Both web publications and native apps have their pros and cons and we will split them out in feature groups below.

When Considering Features: If your main concern is having a myriad of features from which to choose, then use native apps. Native apps have access to the whole boatload of device-exclusive features like notifications, camera and GPS, to name just a few. A business that mainly interacts with its customers in person or on the phone likely doesn’t need a mobile app. A regular online digital publication will be exactly what you want.

However, if your business is one that offers an existing web service that caters to user logins and account management, then the native app is the way to go because it’s offers more features and is more convenient. When Considering Installation, Rapid Access & SEO: Web publications are much easier to install than native apps. When you “install” a web publication, you just have to create a bookmark on your home screen. However, installing a native app means downloading it from an app store, which takes longer and also has to get over the hurdle of the user first justifying the effort to do so.

Accessing a native app is easy immediately after the download. However for future access and updates, often additional downloads of content and updates of the app are required. This can create a burden on the reader, and it should not come as a surprise that more than 9 out of 10 apps are deleted after installation.

Also, do take into account that native apps cannot be accessed on desktops, which is still about 50% of your traffic.

When Considering the User Interface: Native apps are your best bet if you’re looking for that extra crispy feeling and high-resolution graphics.

However, for 99% of us, the experience and interface possibilities offered by web publications are not just good enough, we feel totally satisfied with the experience.

About Hybrid Apps

In theory, hybrid apps could offer the best of both worlds. The reality as we have experienced it though, is that hybrid apps can run both on app stores and on the web, but are not particularly good in either. So you'll get a second rate experience everywhere.
It Comes Down to Preference As you can see, both online digital publications and native apps have their pros and cons. Each is also better for specific situations which the other’s not well-suited for. Web publications started to get increasingly popular due to the use of HTML5: This made more users aware of the fact that they could achieve native-like functionality right in their browsers.
What’s the best digital publishing platform for brands and publishers: apps or not? Fact. More and more people are using smartphones and tablets NOW to access content. Fact. Mobile devices will be or are already the primary devices for accessing content in the future. We don’t have to look into a crystal ball to predict that; it’s already happening, with people moving from screen to screen and checking things out on mobile devices late into the night. The question is: what do content providers, marketers and the brands they represent do about it?

And the answer: if your core audience has gone mobile, so must you – you have to deliver content in the way that works best for your readers. It sounds simple enough, but it isn’t because content producers have a choice to make between using a native app or a web app for content delivery. Don’t be confused by the terminology. A native app is simply an app that is downloaded to a mobile device, that runs on a particular mobile operating system (such as Android, iOs or Windows Phone), and is specifically designed to work with the features and functionality on that device. Generally, most users will pick up a native app in an app store. In contrast, a web app uses the latest web technologies to mimic the functionality of an app. Most people can’t tell the difference, but if you want to really understand it, check out this article from NNGroup. Which should you choose? Here are some of the advantages of each kind of app.

Native App Advantages

Most importantly, a native app will always feel just a little bit smoother because it’s made to work with a specific mobile device and an operating system. One of the best things a native app has going for it is the ability to use all the features built into a mobile device. That means if your online magazine includes a map, it can open in the built in maps application. And if you have a phone number in the app, smartphone users can call your business with one tap or swipe. Another feature is the ability to access content offline. Think of something like Google Currents, where people can sync the latest news with their mobile device and read it even when they don’t have a connection. Of course, some web apps offer offline access as well. But of course, native apps have major disadvantages – the need to have a different mobile app for every operating system and to keep these constantly up to date as those systems change. Also, mobile app development can become costly very fast.

Web App Advantages

Mobile web apps also have a lot to offer users. For example, mobile web apps are universal, no matter what mobile device they are using. And the user experience can be the same as a native app including swipes, user interface, etc. They are much, much better for SEO because they are spidered like other websites. That’s an important consideration for content marketers. No-one needs to install anything special to use a mobile web app and to keep them updated. They are easy to update and maintain, likely more affordable and a very important element is that no-one has the hassle of trying to get the app into an app store. For more on the differences between the apps, there’s an excellent slide deck on the Business Insider site. What Content Providers Must Do Whichever format wins out the imperative for content marketers hasn’t changed. To keep readers happy now and in the future, content providers must make their publications:
  • optimized for search (which is why we like web apps)
  • easily obtainable (i.e., minimize steps to obtain it)
  • readable on mobile
  • readable by email (on mobile devices)
  • easy to navigate and share
  • small and adapted – no download
This last point is important, because as marketers produce more content, your readers will be less and less inclined to take extra steps to get to your content.
digital-publishing-platforms

Selecting The Best Digital Publishing Platform:
The Definitive Guide

2019 update incl 11 favorite platforms

By Bart De Pelsmaeker
Contents:
1. What does digital publishing mean?
2. What is a digital publishing platform?
3. Digital publishing platform comparison
4. 13 questions to ask digital solution vendors
5. Web technology vs apps. Pro's and con's
6. Web or apps: when to use which
7. Reasons to do interactive digital publishing
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