To gate or not to gate? That is the age-old question — especially for publishers within membership associations — when it comes to positioning digital content.
Should the website be reserved for members only, and promoted as a benefit of joining the association? Should it be open-access, positioned to bring in new readers and convert them to membership? Should it serve as an advocate for the industry- or profession-at-large, informing the general public in a way that dovetails with the association's mission?
After 85 years of exclusive availability to the New York State Society of CPA's, The CPA Journal — the Society's monthly publication — has decided to open things up to the public with the launch of a revamped CPAJournal.com.
According to Rick Kravitz, who's served as editor-in-chief of the Journal since his arrival three years ago, it's simply a logical move.
"CPA's are the most trusted business professionals, and their responsibility is to the public," Kravitz tells Folio:. "So it's a natural extension that we should make the publication available to the public. If you look at the June issue, it won't bore you to death. It's about drones and robots and artificial intelligence and deep learning. It's stuff that I think the public, and especially the business public, will find tremendously interesting."
As with any decision to open up what was formerly gated, the shift runs the risk of undermining the Society's efforts to attract new members, but Kravitz credits the Society's executive director, Joanne Barry, with giving him the freedom to take such a dramatic step.
"I wanted to set my own direction," Kravitz continues. "I gave Joanne a plan of what I wanted to do and she was open to it, which was wonderful."
Members of the New York-based Society still receive the print magazine as a members-only perk, most of which does not end up being published online, but a suite of new content initiatives — including ten new columns from figures Kravitz describes as "national leaders on specific topics" — are now available online each month to anyone who wishes to access them.
"The Journal is still considered the number-one member benefit of the State Society," Kravitz adds, "but I think we're strong enough to accept that if [the content] is given away for free, that it won't hurt us. Also, there's a reputational capital gain as a result."
Therein lies a major benefit of opening things up. Kravitz is specifically targeting what he calls the 18 – 34 demo over concerns that young people aren't flocking to the accounting profession in the numbers they once were.
"It's not because of an advertising perspective, but because those are the next generation of accounting professionals. Those are the people who I want to inspire to become one of us. We don't have pencils in our pockets anymore. It's a different world."
To that end — in addition to infusing the traditionally New York-centric publication with a more national focus — Kravitz aims to highlight inspiring figures from the world of accounting.
One such content initiative is a new video series called "Voices of the Profession," consisting of interviews with leaders in the field and reflections on what the accounting profession means to them. In a similar vein, a February narrative, "It's Amazing What CPA's Can Do," told the story of MiaoLing Lin, who went from farmer's daughter in a rural Taiwanese village to partner at New York City's Koch Group & Co.
It's all part of an effort to liven up the content and make it relevant to CPA's and non-accountants alike — something Kravitz views as a reflection of the modern profession.
"When I came on board, 80 percent of our articles were written by academics," Kravitz continues. "Today, I reject probably 80 to 90 percent of them. It's just not meaningful anymore. We still accept some, but they have to be the best."
Another change, says Kravitz, has meant aggressively soliciting articles where, previously, submissions sufficed. Kravitz credits mentors, like accounting icon Sidney Kess, both with contributing his own perspectives to the Journal and identifying other new and dynamic writers. Additionally, a new partnership with Thomson Reuters stocks regular email newsletters with the latest headlines.
When all is said and done, Kravitz says he hopes to bring new awareness to the public about the vital role CPA's play and how the profession affects everyone.
"Ninety-three million Americans own stock in American companies through their 401K's, but not one of them votes for the CEO, for the board of directors, for their stock compensation," he says. "Absent a CPA who says, 'Wait a minute, guys. Your numbers are fake,' no amount of regulation is ultimately going to protect the public."