If you’ve decided to start an online publishing business, you have many choices, including static niche-focused sites, subscription content, and blogs, all of which we’ve discussed here. Another option is to build an online magazine, preferably one related to your startup market.
The problem is that, until recently, the type of CMS (Content Management System) needed to produce an impressive online magazine would set you back at least $100,000, if not literally a million. And then you have to factor in “seat licenses” for every person who would be using the software. That’s way too much for most online publishers, aspiring or otherwise.
Enter WordPress (aka WP), reputedly the most used platform blogs. Despite that, WordPress is nearly as powerful as most of the high-end CMSes that I assessed in the late 90s for large companies. And it’s free, Open Source software. (At least for the present.) It’s also quite capable of present a magazine-like website, as the sudden explosion of magazine-like WP themes will attest to.
If you do have designs on an online magazine, you need a good layout to match. There are actually quite a number to choose from, and some of them are discussed briefly below, with snapshots. Please note that some of these themes require WP 2.3+ versions, which to me is a huge disappointment due to serious changes in the database schema that are incompatible with earlier versions of WordPress.
Being included here is not an endorsement of any particular theme and not a snub of others. I’m including those that I’ve either tried, read about a fair bit, or simply caught my eye.
1. Revolution. The original Revolution theme is one of my early favorites and I had no trouble shelling out a few dollars for a licensed copy that I could install multiple times – and tweak to my heart’s content. The theme is by Brian Gardner, whose free WP themes you can find at Performancing.
The main Revolution site has a wealth of tutorials on how to use the theme and customize it. It’s robust enough to show several variations. Check out Hot Togs and Curry Elvis for a couple of examples. As with most of the themes in this list, you can take Revolution and make it yours by tweaking.
There are a number of different licensing options, so check out what’s most appropriate for your needs.
2. Revolution News, Magazine, Sports. Shortly after the success of Revolution, Brian released his Revolution News, Magazine and Sports themes, which are essentially variations on the same idea, but do have distinct layouts. While I purchased a copy of the Magazine theme, I haven’t yet implemented it. These are much more magazine-y than the original Revolution, and the Magazine variation has a space set out for a “featured video”.
The licensing options for these three themes are different than for the original theme. If you want any of these for multiple use, it’ll cost you more.
The only drawback I’ve found with the four Revolution themes is that the default mode uses their logos, which you will not want for your sites. Most of the other themes here instead use the name of your WordPress blog automatically.
3. TMA – The Morning After. TMA , by Arun Kale, is another of my favorite WP magazine themes, which you can see implemented with slight layout variations at CallStyle and PopSofa. Details on customizing this free theme are available on the main page. Besides the general layout, it has a very “online magazine” feel to it, with well-integrated layout components.
What I really like about it is the Feature and Asides components. It’s also relatively easy to move the chunks around, if you are familiar enough with the PHP coding used by WordPress. I’ve also taken the Asides code from here and implemented it in another magazine theme, Mimbo, discussed below. The only thing I don’t like about this is how blockquotes appear out of the box. However, of all the free themes, it’s my favorite.
4. Mimbo. I really love Mimbo, by Darren Hoyt, for sites with lots of images. But there are a few kinks I found while customizing an implementation, including category archive pages showing as the home page instead. (But in all fairness, they work on the demo site; just not for me.)
Note that the name Mimbo means “male bimbo”, and that this theme is ideal for a fashion mag or something in the entertainment or pop culture vein. On the other hand, a very attractive implementation can be found at Cycling Challenge (which I have nothing to do with). I have taken the “Asides” section of TMA (above) and replicated it – something I intend to do with on some Revolution installs.
5. Your Revolution. Adii (Adriian Pienaar) released three magazine-style themes, though I’m not sure if Your Revolution is first or second. This one has a slight resemblance to Brian Gardner’s Revolution News theme in terms of layout, but uses a completely different color theme out of the box.
The list price is $79, but since I don’t own a copy, I can’t say how easy it is to customize. It’s not one of my favorites, though color themes are always a personal choice. I’ll take a guess that
6. Blockmag. The Blockmag theme is also by Adii, and I prefer this one over his Your Revolution, especially in terms of layout. Both are available for sale, along with a number of other themes by Adii.
Maybe it’s the demo and the demo colors, but I find that this theme might be more suitable to something in the art vein – possibly for selling art online, if you have an arts magazine to go with it.
7. Premium News Theme. The Premium News Theme is the third of Adii’s magazine themes. I find this one to be the most attractive of the three, very professional, and ideal for sites with lots of photos and videos. In fact, there’s a built-in video player.
It’s very sexy and crisp, and the homepage layout makes me think of a print magazine masthead, with large snippets of photos. I might just have to shell out the $99 for it – but that only covers a single use. Like some of the other paid themes, if you want to use it on multiple sites, there’s an extra flat cost.
8. Grid Focus. Grid Focus is very minimalist, with a strong black and white, 3-column theme, tempered with a bit of gray. It leaves a fair bit of room for customization.
What’s interesting is that the navigation bar is duplicated at the bottom of the page. Given the demo layout, this theme is probably ideal for a text-heavy site. However, it’s likely that it wouldn’t be too much work to incorporate images. And color.
9. Futurosity. Futurosity takes a vertical approach to the magazine theme, in a minimalist sense. The demo page suggests a theme ideal for text-heavy sites, though i’m sure you could add images. (It’s not evident from the snapshot at right.)
The individual post page template is very clean, with tons of white space, and space for large images (scroll to bottom of page). Overall, this a simple but bold theme, and potentially has a lot of uses.
10. Jello Wala Mello. Designer Small Potato has released what he calls a “free premium” magazine theme called Jello Wala Mello. I’m not big on yellow (my least fave color in the spectrum), but I do like the general layout.
It’s influenced by CNN and Kineda layouts, which Small Potato mentions. He also goes through the influences and the process he used, including previously hiring someone to come up with what is now an earlier incarnation of this theme. (Which is less yellow and laid out differently.)
Other magazine themes.
Theme Playground also reviews several other magazine-style themes that I didnt’ know about and thus haven’t explored yet. Design Adapations also talks about creating a magazine style theme by example, reviewing some of themes listed here. (Note: Theme Playground uses the TMA theme.)
Few of these themes “work” out of the box. After you install and activate one of them in your WordPress control panel, you likely do have to do some work, adding one or more sizes of images for the home page, and what WordPress calls custom fields. In fact, unless you don’t care about homepage images, you also have to do some photo editing work each time you post a new article.
If you want something original, an area of site design that you might be interested in is grid-based design, which makes up the core of these magazine themes. The Blueprint framework is a good place to start, for producing grid-based layouts from scratch.
It’s true that not all of the themes above are ideal for a professional online magazine, though many of them show a great deal of promise, and some of the licenses allow tweaking and/or reuse.