Hey Lit Mags! Don’t use issuu for your issues!

As the former Managing Editor of Savant-Garde, a literary magazine I founded during my undergraduate in Creative Writing & Publishing, I am always interested in examining new ways to present digital magazines. As many literary magazines are projects of joy—that is, not-for-profit projects that are conceptualized because their creators are passionate about writing and want to provide writers with more places to publish—printing costs are typically out of budget which is why many magazines have turned to digital-only media. On top of these budgetary constraints, many literary magazines have small staff teams who may not have formal publishing backgrounds—meaning that they may not have skills in website building, and design. To these staff teams, websites that are already pre-existing with easy-to-use templates are a godsend—which has led many literary magazines to issuu.

What is issuu?

Founded in 2007, issuu is a digital publishing platform with over 30 million publications available worldwide. issuu offers anyone with digital content to upload their publications to their website where anyone with a link can find it. From zines, to artists portfolios, to professional magazines—there is a huge variety of what can be found on issuu. With easy-to-use templates, anyone can become a publisher on issuu and then distribute their content to the 100 million readers it brings in monthly. issuu’s mission is to become a place where storytellers, artists, and creators can connect to audiences all around the world—something that is difficult with print magazines due to printing and shipping costs. Teams of creators can work together using issuu Collaborate, which allows for the designation of roles and tasks to complete for the publication.

issuu can create full-screen sharing, flipbooks, article stories, or visual stories—allowing creators to showcase their content in the way that best represents it. Those who opt to pay for one of issuu’s monthly plans can insert their issuu content into their own website, meaning that they don’t have to send their readers to issuu to view their content. These paid plans also offer detailed statistics about the demographics of their readers, remove third-party ads, and allow their readers to customize their reader experience.

It’s no wonder that a large number of literary magazines have opted to host their content on issuu. The pre-made templates are a godsend to teams without a designer on staff and the flipbook style that issuu offers allows digital magazines to read like physical print magazines. issuu integrates with many of the programs that literary magazines already use: InDesign, Dropbox, Mailchimp, and Google Drive can all be directly imported for a seamless workflow.

Collaborate allows for editorial teams to assign specific tasks, something that magazines that work independently using things like PDF and Google Drive don’t have. The built-in readership already present on the site is essentially free marketing. The website also features a “similar to” function, which recommends publications to readers based on what they are currently reading. This can direct readers of other literary magazines towards your content—a benefit that independently-hosted magazines do not have. And finally, Issuu allows paid users to host their content as a subscription, which can allow literary magazines to charge for their issues.

Sounds great! So, what’s the issue?

While issuu has many fantastic qualities for content creators, it also has many drawbacks. The first problem with hosting your literary magazine through issuu is discoverability. As I stated in the beginning of this post, issuu boasts having over 30 million publications available. While they claim this as a benefit, for many it means that finding your content is like finding a needle in a haystack. In addition to this, its search function does not allow for significant filtering. After searching for literary magazine, I was then only able to change my search settings to sort by relevance, date, popularity, location, and language. While these options might sound like enough, they really weren’t. For example, I am not sure what clicking the “location” option really did in terms of my search. I could not, for example, type in “Canada” to find only Canadian content. In a similar vein to this, there would be no way to differentiate Quebecois content from any other French-speaking country.

Piggybacking off of the discoverability problem is the fact that searching for the content uploaded to issuu on Google will always show it on issuu first. Because issuu hosts the actual content and only allows it to be to embedded into personal websites, the website will never show up on a google search result. This means that readers will never benefit from any of the other features a magazine offers—for example: calls for submissions, social media links, mastheads.  While the website might promote the magazine to someone who may not have found it if it were independently hosted, it is less likely that the reader will re-visit unless they subscribe to the content through issuu.

Another drawback of issuu is accessibility. Readers who are visually impaired will have a hard time reading content on issuu. There is no option for voice-to-text option, and because issuu content on websites is embedded, many of the devices that the visually impaired use will not pick up on the text, just as they can’t read text on an image in an eBook.

Speaking of accessibility—anyone interested in viewing content on issuu needs an internet connection. Because of the flipbook style, each page of the ebook has to be loaded independently—which means that readers can’t just load the entire piece and then disconnect from the internet like they might using an independent website or PDF. Many people do their reading while transiting, while travelling, or while outdoors where there isn’t a reliable Wi-fi network. None of these people would be able to read more than a page of content hosted through issuu.

This constant reloading can also cause some annoyance with load times for the pages. While flipping through a few magazines on issuu, I found myself facing the spinning wheel of death more than once while waiting for the next page to buffer—and that was while I was on a reliable network. It lagged even more when I was browsing on my Iphone’s web browser, which could be an intentional move to try and convince people to download the issuu reader app for mobile browsing. This is yet another deterrent for possible readers, as many won’t want to go through the hassle of downloading an app—even if it is free—just to access the content.

And being able to download content to read offline isn’t the only feature issuu is missing. Standard features that digital readers have become used to having from devices like the Kindle or Nook are also nowhere to be found on issuu, such as bookmarking. If a reader isn’t able to read the entire publication in one go, they would have to share the link to the page they left off on to themselves, remember the page number they left off on, or—if the reader is anything like me—give up on the publication where they left off because of the hassle. While this might not be a big deal to publications, it is to readers—especially those who are paying for subscriptions through issuu because they would expect to have the functions that have become commonplace in digital reading.

The final drawback of issuu is the cost. While issuu does offer a free plan, it offers very little of the positive options that literary magazines would want to take advantage of. The free plan is only accessible to one user and only allows the content to be available on the issuu website—no embedding to a personal website. In order to take advantage of the numerous benefits issuu has to offer for a publication, staff would have to pay for one of the monthly subscriptions. Most literary magazines would need at least the Premium plan—which allows 3 users—just to give their staff full access. But the $40/month is quite a bit for a literary magazine—especially one that is not-for-profit. And to access the Collaborate tool—a functionality that issuu boasts about for team collaboration efforts, a magazine would need to Optimum plan at an extravagant $269/month. This cost is considerably more than other options for literary magazine publishing. Website hosting, assuming that the magazine purchases its own domain, can cost the same as a month of the Optimum plan in an entire calendar year.

To conclude, while the ease of creating and distributing content that issuu provides can be tempting, there are numerous drawbacks that literary magazines should consider before deciding to use issuu for their publications. From discoverability and accessibility issues that will keep readers from either finding, or committing to the publication, to the cost of the service, it should not become the new standard for literary magazines—especially when there are numerous other services out there that provide similar features such as Scribd or FlipHTML. Or, instead of desperately holding on to the traditional print magazine aesthetic despite going digital, an independent website can feature the writing just as well.

Sources

Botticello, Casey. “Issuu Review.” Accessed March 12, 2022. https://medium.com/digital-marketing-lab/overview-of-issuu-6a74c28a383a

Brooks, Floyd. “Issuu Digital Publication Review.” Accessed March 12, 2022. https://www.accuteach.com/issuu-digital-publication-review/

Goldstein, Devan. “Issues with Issuu. An Open Letter to Literary Magazines.” Accessed March 10, 2020. https://devangoldstein.com/2012/05/03/issues-with-issuu-open-letter-to-literary-magazines/

Issuu.com. “Home.” Accessed March 10, 2022.  https://issuu.com/

Issuu.com. “Plans.” Accessed March 10, 2022. https://issuu.com/pricing?issuu_product=header&issuu_subproduct=anon_home&issuu_context=link&issuu_cta=try

Ng, Ryan. “The Digital Revolution.” Accessed March 12, 2020. https://ljr.ca/2021/04/30/the-digital-revolution/

PDF Catalogue Creator. “17 powerful Issuu alternatives nobody told you about.” Accessed March 12, 2022. https://pdfcatalogcreator.blogspot.com/2018/06/issuu-alternatives-.html

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