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Expanding Your Readership through New Media - 11/17/2009 -

The era of the digital magazine has arrived, and associations need to either get on board with the idea or face getting left behind. Here is some advice from fellow members who have made the leap into the world of digital publications.

By Lindsey A. Biggam

ADAPTING TO THE DIGITAL WORLD CAN BE DIFFICULT FOR ANY ASSOCIATION,but it can be especially difficult for those that rely on print publications as their main form of member communication. Nevertheless, the era of the digital magazine has arrived, and associations need to either get on board with the idea or face getting left behind.

While adopting a digital edition may go against the nature of the traditional association publishing mindset, when offered in addition to a print publication, it can lead to new opportunities for the association and its members and advertisers. To assist associations through the growing pains of going digital, Association Media & Publishing recently offered a presentation titled, "Expanding Your Readership through New Media” as part of its Chicago education series.

To incorporate all aspects of digital publishing, the session included industry experts from various backgrounds and with different viewpoints regarding going digital. Kimberly Kett, director of business development for Texterity, a company that offers digital publishing solutions, started the presentation off with a brief overview of the purpose of digital editions and why they are important to association publishers. Kett highlighted the practical benefits of adopting a digital edition, such as limiting paper waste and creating a searchable archive, but stressed the importance of digital editions as they relate to member satisfaction.

"Research has shown that 10-15 percent of any controlled professional group will choose a digital edition,” said Kett. This choice, she continued, is primarily due to the fact that digital editions give members options regarding how they engage with their publications. For example, with a digital publication, members can read the content via their desktop or mobile device and get immediate access to additional information through Internet links, videos, or podcasts.

Once an association decides to adopt a digital edition, there is still another big decision to make: Should the digital edition be open access or closed access? An open-access digital edition allows members and nonmembers equal access to the publication. The benefits of this option include:

  • Maximizing exposure for an association's publication via Internet searches;
  • Providing support for membership recruitment; and
  • Supplying members with the ability to share content with nonmember colleagues.

Association Forum of Chicagoland's Forum magazine is a good example of an open-access digital edition. Greg Fine, who prior to his current position as vice president of marketing and communications for Association of Corporate Growth had served as communications and marketing director and executive editor for the Association Forum of Chicagoland, explained why Association Forum chose this route for its publication. "Open-access digital editions create an additional distribution channel for the publication and expose the association to a larger community,” he said.

Association Forum, he added, has found success in this model, as member use has increased by approximately 10 percent each month since the digital edition was launched. Google and inbound hits to the association's website have increased as well.

On the other hand, while increasing the public exposure of an association is a good benefit of an open-access digital edition, if that increased exposure dilutes the benefits of membership it can be a potential problem. Kathleen Witman, publications business and special projects manager for the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)], told the group that she weighed the options of both types of access but ultimately decided that a closed-access digital edition of EAA's magazine would be best for the association and its members.

Recognizing that the closed-access method could cause EAA to miss out on some great member-recruitment opportunities, Witman's organization has remedied the problem by initiating a "look inside” feature. "We can promote our organization without giving all of our content away by using a ‘look inside' feature that allows visitors to read a single article or a section of an article,” she explained to attendees. In fact, EAA has been so pleased with the digital edition of the association's magazine that it hopes to digitize other association communication products such as the EAA annual report in the future.

Making the decision to launch a digital edition can be a difficult one for an association to make, especially when the open-access versus closed-access issue is introduced. Nevertheless, according to presenters at the "Expanding Your Readership through New Media” event, it is important for associations to understand that digital technology is not a fad—it's the future. While it may be a long time before print publications become obsolete, it is not in any association's best interests to be behind the times.

Lindsey A. Biggam is staff writer/editorial assistant for the Academy of General Dentistryin Chicago. Association Media & Publishing thanks her for volunteering to cover this event for our members who were unable to attend.


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