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Digitizing print content: How to increase revenue with web content

By: Dave Fearnley | August 1, 2018 | Business solutions and Web solutions

If you deliver print content such as a magazine or newsletter to a subscribed user base, you should be targeting a digital solution.

Making digital versions of print content available to web users is an important step in maintaining a relevant position in the content marketplace. Whether it's a website, a digital edition, or an app, having a digital presence opens up the opportunity to augment your print offerings with web articles, blogs, e-newsletters, video, and audio.

Plus, digitizing your content is a proven way to increase your bottom line. Check out how much online revenue our client Habitat Magazine discovered was possible with an enhanced digital presence. 

The advantages of a digital presence are:

  • Social – The digital platform provides opportunities for your readers to discuss your content in a public forum and to share your content with non-subscribers. This will raise the profile of your content and may lead to an increased number of subscriptions.
  • Customer retention – Having a digital subscriber base will enable you to have a line of communication with your readers to inform them of promotions or to gather feedback to monitor their satisfaction and engagement with your content.
  • Expanded readership - Some people simply prefer to read content on their favourite device. If your content is not available digitally, you're missing out on this potential audience.
  • Environmental – Reduce the impact on natural resources of your company’s content delivery. While you might still provide your content via print, every new digital only subscription will add to your bottom line with far less environmental impact.

Controlling user access to digital content

Your first step should be to employ a sophisticated content management system (CMS) such as our preferred system eZ Publish / eZ Platform. eZ provides a comprehensive user management system that allows you to control access to your content based on roles that you define, such as print subscriber, digital subscriber, and free access.

Once you have a system in place to control access, it’s a simple matter of retrieving the subscription status from the fulfillment company. This way you can properly message subscribers about renewals.

Managing digital subscriptions

Identify a company capable of fulfilling subscriptions in both print and digital form. Start with your current fulfillment provider. They may have an in-house solution ready to go. As you evaluate offerings, there are a few questions you'll need to ask: 

What will be the subscription experience? 

How and where will subscribers complete their purchase? Can you integrate their solution seamlessly into your site through an application program interface (API), or does it require subscribers to visit the provider’s site to complete purchases and manage their accounts? Some fulfillment companies offer both, and there are advantages to both of these approaches.

On the one hand, using an API gives you more control over the user experience throughout the subscription process, allowing you to control the look and feel of the subscription pages and maintain a branded experience. An API is a "backdoor" to data housed in the cloud that can be accessed without formatting, enabling you to provide a seamless experience for your customers. They can remain on your site during the entire purchase process.

Conversely, using your fulfillment provider’s pages will save development costs because they will be providing all of the programming behind the scenes and will more than likely have ready to go solutions. If they are a large company with other clients (hopefully print clients) their system should have the benefit of development over time, making it more robust than a one off in-house solution that you may decide upon. 

Do they offer single sign on? 

Single sign on or SSO is a system whereby users from one website can re-use their username and password on subsequent websites. This makes for a simpler experience for the user in that once they are signed on to a website, they do not need to sign on to others that share SSO. You've probably experienced something like this if you've joined a site that provides the option to "Sign in with Facebook" or "Sign in with Google". 

You’re going to have to maintain a user table in either your database or your fulfillment company’s. If subscription data will be managed by your provider, it would be most efficient for them to provide SSO capability. This would preclude you from replicating a lot of user data in your database and you could simply restrict or grant access to your content based on the status of the user's subscription acquired through SSO. If you are going to rely solely on a third party to control the user data, make sure that it supports free accounts. You’ll need this to engage users who have yet to subscribe to your content. 

Do they follow up-to-date security protocols? 

Whenever you are dealing with sensitive personal information, such as credit card numbers and passwords, it is best practice to make sure that you are directing your users to a secure connection via the HTTPS protocol. SSL certificates are inexpensive and can be installed and maintained by your hosting provider or your IT team. In fact, most browsers will now give security warnings for any website that asks for login credentials without a secure connection.

Ask your fulfillment provider to lay out how they secure information passed between your server and theirs, including SSL certificates. Pay close attention to how your provider passes client information to your server. This should only be done using encrypted keys – in other words data should never be passed in plain text, only in encoded form.

Importing print subscribers

You are going to want to import all of your print subscribers into your database. This will smooth the transition of your print subscribers to accounts with login credentials that will give them access to your digital content. You're going to need all of your print subscribers' data such as name, address, and subscription status, etc. You'll want to port as much data as possible, as it may seem onerous to your current subscribers if they are asked to fill out a webform to share information the publisher should already know.

If you already have a digitized database of subscribers, your development team should be able to import these directly into your CMS with a custom script or program. If no such database exists, you can provide a way for print subscribers to create user accounts on your website, identifying them using something unique from their print subscription – for example an account number.

A decision must be made on whether you will grant print subscribers access to your digital content for free or charge for digital access. You may also provide some hybrid of this solution. Perhaps a discount when purchasing both digital and print subscriptions.

Leveraging archival content

An investment in digitizing your back issues and making them available on your website provides a wealth of content that can be monetized. It is most likely the case that a good portion of your content is already stored in some digital format. Your development team will be able to create a script to import all of your content into the CMS.

Once you have your archived content in your CMS, you can make it available to your readers for free, or by subscription or micro-subscription. A widely accepted method is to allow a specific number of free articles per month, and when a reader exceeds that number, they are presented with subscription options for one day, one week, or one month, etc. At this point it may also be a good idea to market full print or digital subscriptions as well.


Once your content is available and accessible to the web, you can submit articles to syndication services such as Facebook Instant Articles and Google AMP, increasing your circulation and widening awareness of what you provide. These services provide fast loading versions of your articles formatted to display better and load faster on mobile devices.

Socialize, advertise, and analyze

Social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, are a powerful way of connecting your content to an ever-widening audience. We have several posts addressing this issue. The more varied and extensive your content, the more visits your site will generate. This presents an opportunity to advertise on your site, and ad revenue is directly proportional to the size and depth of your user base. No digital solution is complete without employing a proven analytics tool to track traffic and engagement.

Want to read more on the benefits of digitizing your content? Here are some more innovative ways our customers have leveraged their web presence to increase their business