When Folio: surveyed the industry’s small army of association magazine publishers late last year, we found that, overwhelmingly, print was still the main revenue driver, while e-media and events programs were lacking. Since then, consumer and b-to-b publishers have continued to pursue new revenues from online initiatives. Are association magazines following suit? Should they?
Absolutely, says Jeff De Cagna, chief strategist of Principled Innovation, consultants to the association community. “Association magazines are in very much the same place as many of the associations themselves: a time of transition,” De Cagna, a former association executive, tells Folio:. “How can these magazines create communities around the content they are trying to share through the print publication, extending its value?”
While their consumer, for-profit counterparts are innovating with new products to increase customer loyalty, association magazines should be concerned with engaging the association’s members, says De Cagna. “The first point of innovation should come from user-created content, such as blogs and podcasts,” he adds. “Only a relatively small subset of association members—one to two percent, maybe as high as 10—are actively engaged in the work of the association. Association publishers need to be thinking about how to redesign their product in order to make them vehicles for participation rather than simply vehicles for consumption.”
Robert Fromberg, editor-in-chief of hfm, the magazine of the Healthcare Financial Management Association, agrees. “Innovation should start with the information we deliver—doing a better job matching information type and format with member and reader needs and proclivities,” says Fromberg, who is overseeing a number of digital and online initiatives. One idea is to have the association’s experts participate in industry blogs.
“Our members thirst for tools, which we’re providing in native files on CDs supported by sponsors,” he says. “Our members want to hear about health policy issues in an easy-to-digest format, so we’re pursuing combined print-video interviews with smart policy people, also supported by sponsorship. And, our members love detail, so we’re putting significantly expanded versions of our articles on the Web.”
IEEE Spectrum, the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is also exploring digital initiatives, and its publisher, Jim Vick, believes as well that creating communities through online media is a vital opportunity.
One significant change Vick is helping to implement is the digital delivery of IEEE Spectrum and a number of its ancillary publications. “Digital delivery is a service that many members have told us they want, and ensures on time delivery of our products to our international members,” Vick explains. “Digital delivery can save up to $750,000 in manufacturing and distribution costs annually for our magazine. “
Better engagement of members—no matter how it’s accomplished—should be a top priority for association magazine publishers, according to hfm’s Fromberg.
“Whether communities of practice, podcasts, blogs, and so forth will fulfill those goals in the short term depends on the specific association: Its professional focus, the personality type and age of the members, and whether the information and experience delivered through such vehicles touches a nerve,” Fromberg says. “In the long term, associations with an aging membership had better build some expertise with social media, podcasts, and so forth to be positioned to attract younger members, even if today’s revenue streams and members don’t support the endeavor.”