Association publishers face some unique challenges—namely their role as an ancillary operation within a broader organization. However, the operative word is “publisher” and associations share many of the same concerns as their peers on the consumer and b-to-b sides. Folio: spoke with several association publications, focusing on the challenges and opportunities they foresee for 2011. Similar to their consumer and b-to-b counterparts, association publications are constantly seeking ways to improve their readers’ experiences, as well as improve the business model of the publication itself.

The Digital Push

2010 was a record year for the revenue side at Arthritis Today. The magazine contributes about $30 million to the Arthritis Foundation, with about $10 million in direct revenue (advertising, subscription sales and sponsorships), plus revenue from planned giving (events and corporate sponsors); $19 million from indirect organizational revenue (membership and planned giving); and approximately $9 million in strategic value.

“We projected being flat over 2009, but we’re actually coming in at 3 percent ahead in print,” publisher Cindy McDaniel told FOLIO: in late 2010. “We’ve also seen dramatic growth online. We don’t have enough inventory for the online demand.”

That’s a problem many associations (or publishers of any stripe) would like to have. According to Folio:’s 2010 Association Publishing Survey, online media accounted for 8.9 percent of publishing revenue  last year, up from 5.9 percent in 2009. Still, that trails b-to-b (12.5  percent of total revenue from online in 2010) and consumer publishers (11.2 percent of revenue from online media last year).  

Apps, Social Media and Other Tools

Association publications must decide which of the latest technologies will best serve the members and message of their association.

“My personal feeling is that the mobile space is where it will go for associations,” says Rebecca Rolfes, founder and executive vice president of Imagination Publishing, a custom publisher that serves associations. “Obviously, that’s where it’s going for a lot of publishers, but in many cases, association members don’t sit at a desk and they’re not in front of computer. A digital publication that comes on a laptop really doesn’t help in many instances. Mobile has a lot of legs.”

Robert Fromberg, the editor-in-chief of HFM (serving the Healthcare Financial Management Association) says apps are a priority for HFMA in 2011 and plans to “keep it simple” initially, but eventually present a slew of app options for members. He hopes to eventually include  registration options.

AOPA Pilot (which serves the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association) offers access to both print and digital editions (which include video and Webcasting) to members for $10 per year.  

Of course, app creation isn’t free. AOPA Pilot editor-in-chief Thomas Haines says, “Members just seem to expect access to content and product in mobile apps. Trying to justify that investment and knowing which ones to invest in is definitely a challenge, particularly as all of these platforms come over the horizon.”)

Jean Christofferson, managing editor of WorkSpan, the magazine of WorldatWork—which covers global human resource issues—says, “Most association publishers like us really want to have that digital media offering, but are figuring out how to pay for it, whether or not they want to do a print replica, if they want to add value to it, and what they’re prepared to do technology-wise, whether they outsource it or do it in-house.”

The ACC Docket (which serves the Association of Corporate Counsel) and its digital counterpart are released ten times a year, with an average 100-150 page count.

While digital is an attractive option for association publishers (to keep members happy, as well as budget-wise), Carla Kalogeridis, editorial director with Association & Media Publishing warns against a hasty jump—especially when deciding to go exclusively digital.

“We’re seeing publishers throw something out there to change a line item on the budget, trying to save money, but then taking away a wonderful member benefit [print] and risk taking away a whole bunch of other things as a result of that,” Kalogeridis says.

Advertising: How To Jump-start Spending

In order to increase advertising revenue, especially during this time of economic recovery, several association publications are taking advantage of the targeted audiences they serve in order to increase advertising dollars.

For publications like AOPA Pilot and The ACC Docket, this involves aiming at specific demographic groups. In 2010, The ACC  Docket launched a series of Asian briefings. With the April 2011 issue, the publication will start including briefings for Latin America.

Targeting niches is one of the main reasons why advertising increased for The ACC Docket throughout the recession and why 2011 could be its biggest year yet, according to editor-in-chief Kim Howard. “Our philosophy is that [we’re] getting the decision makers now, but [we’re] also getting the decision makers five years from now…it’s a good recruitment tool for advertisers, knowing that they’re going to get the gamut of someone’s career.”

Haines sees another advantage of demographic additions to association publications. “In an area where we haven’t been very successful in getting advertisers to spend in our entire book (which is very broad), this is a much narrower niche….it’s a much higher cost, but it’s a much more targeted audience,” he says.

Other associations are choosing to offer non-traditional options for advertisers. WorldSpan began offering lower-cost options for advertisers including bookmarks, smaller size ads, advertorials and a “showcase” ad, which is basically a business-card sized ad rather than a full-page advertorial.

These “off-the-page” options did make advertising possible for cash-strapped companies, but they also increased response at the same time, according to Christofferson.  The bookmark, for example, has a direct-mail card attached at the bottom, so the advertiser is getting not just a traditional ad, but also a direct response piece.

In terms of cost, most of these “off-the-page” options were less than half the cost of a full-page ad. “I think of it like a ‘lunch menu’ for advertisers,” says Christofferson. “You get the same great food, but you get a smaller portion and you pay less for it.”

While bundled deals are growing through the industry, they may not be appropriate for associations, according to Kalogeridis. “Associations have to be prepared to offer some bundles if that makes sense, but to also have that broken down in a la carte manner to allow those folks that are still recovering their bruised budgets to pick and choose what specifically works for them.”

Ad revenue for The ACC Docket has been consistently close to the $2 million mark for the past three years (it also accounts for approximately 14 percent of the association’s overall revenue).

“In terms of advertising, we normally provide for a minimum 5 percent growth in our advertising revenue year-over-year,” says Howard. “This year, we are above that mark, as we are projecting growth of 7 to 8 percent.”

Advertising is value-added in The ACC Digital Docket but that could change. “When we launched it three years ago, we considered advertising in the digital version a value-add for our advertisers,” says Howard. “As digital readership increases, we continue to review revenue models.”

Content: What’s the Mission for Associations?

An association’s publication is the “association’s handshake,” according to Kalogeridis. She points out that the journal that members receive as part of their paid membership is “often the most tangible” of the supplied benefit. As association publishers are finding out, the format in which the publication is produced is crucial for its approval rate among members.

But association publications are also taking advantage of other tools to better serve their members. HFMA now offers a benchmarking tool online that allows hospitals to compare revenue cycles between peer groups.

Kalogeridis says QR codes, the 2D bar codes publishers can insert at the end of print articles, are gaining favor among association publishers. After the reader scans the code with their smartphones (using an app that can be downloaded for free), the reader is taken to a Web site or a video that offers additional information on the topic in question.

With so many new tools and technologies available, it is sometimes easy to overlook what they are used for: delivering the best content to association members in the most efficient way possible.

Howard attributes The ACC Docket’s success to a continuous effort to reach out to members. This includes a readership survey every three years, advisory boards of past authors for contributing commentary and e-groups on social platforms.

Kalogeridis highlighted simple ways to reach members, such as inserting one or two survey questions into newsletters. In Sidebar, one of Association & Media Publishing’s newsletters, a survey question is provided in each edition, along with the answer from the previous edition’s question. Focus groups are also seen as a valuable tool to gather member feedback for association publishers.

Partnering with Dedicated Publishers

However, other associations are farming out their publications to custom publishers, as well as dedicated b-to-b publishers.

Last year, Hanley Wood and the American Institute of Architects struck a five-year agreement that has Hanley Wood Exhibitions managing the annual AIA Convention and Design Exposition, with HW’s Architect becoming the association’s official publication.

Members also receive digital editions of Hanley Wood’s Residential Architect, EcoHome and Eco-Structure and full access to their Web sites, as well as the formation of an editorial advisory committee, joint research initiatives and other support for AIA chapters.