While many associations are close to or ahead of the online curve, a study called E-Publishing Trends and Metrics from the Angerosa Research Foundation shows that others are just starting to make headway.
"Associations have limited resources and need to deploy them wisely," says Anne Zender, president of the Society of National Association Publications and vice president of communications, Journal of the American Health Information Management Association. "They are not in the business of being early adopters for the sake of early adoption itself." She points out that associations’ online activities may not be visible to the public, which can make it hard for non-members to see movement.
Online Content and E-Newsletters
Of the 316 associations questioned, 66 percent post all magazine and journal content online. Forty-six percent offer original content online-which means more than half are not. Meanwhile, 85 percent put out at least one e-newsletter, and 67 percent publish more than one. Twenty-four percent still offer a print newsletter.
Online Ads: To Sell or Not To Sell
While e-newsletters abound, most are not selling ads to support them-only 26 percent do. Among respondents, the median annual revenue for a primary e-newsletter is $15,000, with 13 percent bringing in more than $50,000 and a high end of $1.2 million. Eighty-three percent say they follow a non-commercial model-their primary goal is not to create a self-sustaining newsletter-but Debra Stratton, president of Stratton Research and head of the Angerosa Research Foundation, is seeing expanded recognition of e-newsletters as revenue tools.
On magazine/journal Web sites and pages in general, one-third of all respondents sell ads. Twenty-six percent plan to sell in the future, while 41 percent have no plans to sell ads online at all but that could change. "If advertisers start to shift money into online publishing, I think we’ll see more association publishers finding ways to accommodate them," Zender says. Overall, study respondents reported a median of $18,000 in annual Web ad/sponsorship revenue, with a high of $2 million.
Protected Versus Open Access
A more even split exists between those who offer open access to content (47 percent of respondents) versus those who require login (44 percent). Eleven percent offer pay-per-view.
Trade associations seem more likely to offer open access than individual membership organizations. The debate is between a fear of "cannibalizing membership versus an interest in providing knowledge," says Stratton. She believes, though, that the number of associations offering open access will grow, as will the amount of open content offered.
Zender’s forecast is similar: "The argument that content needs to be password protected to serve as a member benefit is still out there-but the appeal of being available to Google, blogs, and other social media may serve as a tipping point."
Other Bells and Whistles
Associations are tapping into other digital media as well-36 percent offer Webinars, 26 percent have streaming video, 21 percent run podcasts (the same percentage as those with RSS feeds), and 19 percent have blogs. Most blogs-70 percent-are focused on general news rather than on the associations specifically.
Social networking is also picking up speed, and Stratton and Zender expect this to continue. The International Society for Technology in Education, which publishes Learning & Leading with Technology, started with a MySpace page in November 2006 (they now have 170 friends), added Facebook and Second Life in January 2007 (with 200 and 2,000 members respectively), and joined LinkedIn in March 2007 (on which they have 54 members). Jessica Medaille, senior director for membership development at ISTE, says helping educators learn about Web 2.0 is part of their mission and that while the association considers itself an early adopter, there could be social media applications for other associations.
Zender expects associations to advance with Web 2.0 tools, but not all at once: "They may not adopt all, but look for some to try one or two," she says.