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Couples Therapy for Print and Digital - 8/24/2010 -

Can This Relationship Be Saved? In this mock "therapy session” at the recent Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting, Print and Digital see if they can find a way to coexist peacefully—and effectively.


By Jacqui Cook


Digital’s Side: Everything was fine when I was on the outside, just a new thing to be played with but not taken seriously. As soon as I became in demand, though, everything changed. Now I’m the bad guy and responsible for everything that’s going wrong in Print’s world.


Print’s Side: I am happy Digital has gained some independence, but she forgets where she came from. I know I’ m not getting any younger, but four out of five of us still think I’m viable. Digital is the one who changed the relationship. I’m not jealous, but we both need to evolve into our new roles.


Can this relationship be saved?


Yes, according to the panelists at a mock "therapy” session at the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting in Washington, DC in June. The session featured Greg Fine, CAE, vice president of marketing and communications, Association for Corporate Growth, as the "therapist;”  Kim Kett, director, business development, Texterity, Inc., as "Digital”; and Brian Payne, account executive, McArdle Solutions, as "Print.”


Much of the frustration expressed by Digital and Print echoed what association publication staff members often hear as they try to strike the balance between their print and online products. Both sides clearly are still struggling with where they fit in with members and in their organizations.


"Associations were experts on knowledge transfer with print,” Fine said. "It became what our members expected. We had nondues revenue from it, and magazines became the flagship of many organizations. Then digital showed up, and many things began to change.”


The panelists agreed that a successful strategy capitalizes on the strengths of each type of product. Print has the advantage of being preferred by the largest membership demographic for most organizations – the middle-age professional– as well as still attracting a large share of advertising dollars compared with digital. The advantages of digital are ease of access, the ability to change the document as needed rather than waiting for a new issue to be printed, and its ability to be an easily accessible archive of information.


The panelists acknowledged the financial pressures of having to produce both a print and digital publication, even though that’s what many organizations say their members want. Although digital does not involve the cost of printing, there is still the cost of production.


 "The need to do both print and digital can be a strain,” Payne said. "Decreasing membership due to the economy is a strain, page counts have dropped, and advertising has changed or dropped out. People think just being online is free and print is expensive, but there are misconceptions there.”

Ultimately, the relationship between print and digital has to be one of cooperation. The panelists noted that until members of Gen Y – or even younger – become leaders, associations will have to produce both print and digital materials to reach the largest number of constituents.


"There are so many ways we can complement each other,” Kett said. "Use digital as a membership tool – use it to bring people back to get the printed piece. The goal is to keep the publishing industry alive and together.”


Jacqui Cook (Twitter @olmomto4) is a freelance writer in the Chicago suburbs. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this Annual Meeting session for our members who were unable to attend.


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