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From the Listerver: Reducing Publication Costs - 4/20/2010 -

Your colleagues discuss detailed ways to cut costs in the publication department.

Q. My association is trying to cut costs. As you all know, usually the publications get hit first. Here are a few options under consideration:

1) Reducing the magazine to quarterly—currently it is bi-monthly.
2) Stop printing the magazine by going digital only.
3) Eliminating the magazine and having a 12-page pull-out inserted into a member publication that has a much larger audience. We would get a percentage of the ad sales.

Right now, we have a weekly e-newsletter. In all of these options, we would either keep or upgrade the weekly e-newsletter. If your association has downsized its publications, please share your ideas.

A. I faced the same pressure last year.We responded by a variety of methods and survived. Here's a bullet list of recommendations based on my experience.My mantra for 2009 was, "nothing clears the mind like no alternative,” which should give youa sense of how dire our situation was. We had three controlled circulation trade magazines of varying frequency, two in the construction field, which was already hard hit.

Our two biggest cost areas were print/distribution and staff.I cut my staff by 50 percent, pay cuts for remaining staff, vendor cuts, and hired a print production consultant to find savings in our print/distribution.In addition, we:

  • Killed one magazine; replaced core content with a twice monthly e-bulletin; reduced frequency on another magazine from 10 to 9 x (2008 was 11 x); left flagship at 11x (was 12x in 2008).
  • Reduced paper weight, stock, size, saddle stitch, circulation on both remaining magazines.
  • Added digital editions, worked like mad to build email distribution lists; started testing paid circulation.

These were the main strategies—most painful, all necessary. The goal: Survive to rebuild another day, and that's what we are doing.

It was my belief then and still is today that print is NOT dead, but we would be if we had succumbed to pressure to go to all digital. That format—again, in our case—is not yet viable as a replacement for the ad dollars generated by print.We have successful and very popular weekly e-newsletters and websites tied to our print magazines and the revenue just doesn't compare and won't for many years.These are the facts in the free information Internet world we helped create.

I will be presenting our solutions at the Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting onJune 14-16th, 2010 in a session called "Your Print + Publishing Plan for Growth,” Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 3:15 pm – 4:15 pm in Washington, DC.

Print publishing as we knew it is gone forever. You can survive and even prosper; it will just be different.Good luck.

Nicole Harris, Publisher, National Glass Association

A. I agree with most everything Marlene mentioned in her message. When I read your original message my first thought was: "Wow. Those are all really big steps, and I wouldn't want to make any of them without knowing more about the membership and what is important to them.”

For example, moving your magazine to a digital version might be cool with your readers, but not with advertisers.

We had a similar situation with our journal. We did two issues a year and it came up for conversation when we were looking to cut budget. We didn't want to eliminate it and didn't think the time was right to go strictly digital. However, we could do one "big” issue a year (basically the two issues combined into one) so we were delivering the same number of articles in a year, but saving on printing and postage costs.

James A. Baumann, Director of Communications and Marketing, ACUHO-I

A. Do you sell advertising? If you don't, see if the powers-that-be can be persuaded to allow it to offset your costs. If you do sell advertising, maybe it's time to hire a new ad rep firm.

Rick Pullen, Editor in Chief, Leader's Edge Magazine, The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers

A. Cutting costs can be such a painful thing – especially when it affects the publications and communications vehicles we work so hard to produce for our members and readers. I love reading the print magazines I produce as soon as I get advances, and I love "thumbing” through our digital editions as soon as they're live – so that's the long way of saying: Here's to surviving the belt-tightening!

The options you lay out here are pretty standard go-to solutions right now; we've had our clients ask these same questions and we've worked through many a tight budget with them. But before you choose an option (and they all seem a bit painful), I recommend taking a hard look before you leap.

For example, how does your magazine currently rank among your members/readers? Do they consider your bimonthly magazine a top benefit of membership? (In other words, are you at risk of losing members or member engagement by reducing frequency or not publishing at all? If you are, then you could be doing your association more harm than good in the long term by apparently saving some money right now.)

How will your advertisers react to reduced frequency, digital only, or no access to a dedicated print magazine anymore? Will they take their ad dollars somewhere else altogether? How could that affect your association's long-term strategy/goals?

Then on the flip side, let's say you did reduce to a quarterly – I had one of my magazines reduce frequency just last year. But I really think this association was smart about it. We took a hard look at the competing magazines in the market, we talked with advertisers … we really did the homework. As part of a well-planned strategy, we did reduce frequency (from 9x to 6x) but with a solid commitment to editorial and renewed efforts on advertising sales, including a new digital platform that supplements the print. Fast forward to today – ad sales are very healthy, the digital platform is engaging readers (who still want their print magazines), editorial is top-notch—and the competitor magazines are getting thinner and thinner.

My knee-jerk response (not knowing all the background) is to say, don't eliminate your magazine altogether/all at once. If you need cost savings ASAP, start with smaller options – like production, printing, and mailing strategies (cheaper paper, strategic page counts, co-mailing), which of course you may already be doing. If you do have to reduce frequency, build your strategy and make that move work for you! Use your weekly e-newsletter to promote your magazine's "exciting changes.” Get as much feedback as you can from your readers/members.

And as a sort of side strategy, how do your communications/publications budgets/expenses fit into your association's master plan? Does your magazine get a portion of membership dues? It's also good to be able to make your case (when budgets are getting cut) from a financial/strategic perspective.

Marlene L. Hendrickson, Publications Manager, Stratton Publishing & Marketing/Stratton Research


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