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When it Comes to Association Publishing, Proactive is the Best Approach - 3/22/2016 -

When it comes to association publishing, proactive is the best approach

By Andrew Shackelford

Staying current with publishing trends and possibilities is its own challenge. Recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to speak with John Bond, president of Philadelphia-based Riverwinds Consulting about where association publishing is going and his advice to publishers.

Bond has over 25 years’ experience in innovating and leading the medical and STM publishing industry. Previously, as chief content officer at SLACK Incorporated, he helped guide the launch of a major medical platform that provides millions of page views to health care providers around the world.

His experience covers book, journal, and digital publishing in medicine, nursing and the health professions. As founder of Riverwinds Consulting, he helps publishers, associations, and authors find answers to everyday challenges.

His experience spans all aspects of content creation including editorial planning and development, product acquisitions, editorial and production, marketing/sales/promotion, rights management and licensing, and content aggregation.

Sidebar: Can you discuss the importance of integrating the print and digital versions of a journal?

Bond: It has been interesting to see the evolution of the market from print to electronic and finally to an integrated print/electronic model in the journal/magazine space. The emphasis for many publications has clearly shifted from paper to electronic, but this is very much market dependent. I am sure paper versions will continue to exist for the foreseeable future, in part due to the print ad market and also the format preference by a not insignificant portion of the readership.

Electronic versions have presented many new advertising and sponsorship opportunities as well as the ability to disseminate content well beyond the base of members and subscribers, thereby increasing potential revenue and new members. Other electronic options such as apps (working with an aggregation service) and an e-content alert add another dimension to the options for associations to reach new audiences.

Integrating all the versions of a journal is important to financial success.Building on each other certainly helps increase brand recognition and raises awareness of the other formats as well as the unique options each format may offer. Each format can also offer different opportunities to communicate with current and potential new members.

Finally, maintaining each format has cost associated with it. If done in a judicious manner, each format should bring revenue and unique communication opportunities to the association. Taking away one leg of the stool may have significant consequences.

Sidebar: If an association does not have a book-publishing program, how would you suggest going about the possibility of starting one?

Bond: I’ve published over 500 titles, which in turn sold over a half-million copies in total. To a novice, starting a book program can seem like a significant challenge. Entering into the endeavor with all the facts on hand will lead to an educated and enlightened decision.

Member education and training will most likely be the top priority. An assessment of how well the market currently addresses education (whether in book form or not) will be instructive.

Financial considerations will come next. The infrastructure necessary to run a book program is not insignificant. The good news is this infrastructure can be created with either in-house staff, with outsourcing, or through partnering with a traditional publisher. Next is the market assessment of what sales might look like. There are some tools that allow one to assess what competitive book titles sell as a benchmark for potential sales. Having a solid P&L will help guide whether the endeavor is worthwhile.

The cache of an association brand can be a big marketing boast for books. Partnering with a publisher is the quickest avenue to starting a book program. The end decision should be guided by whether the program’s intention is member benefit or revenue center.

Sidebar: Where do you see publishing in the near future? What surprises, good or otherwise, should we be prepared for?

Bond: In my role as chief content officer, I worked as one of the key principals to launch a major healthcare publishing platform that brought together journals, news, education, and book content that delivered millions of page views each year. There were and are many moving parts that I had to consider to stay ahead of the curve. Here is my short list that association publishing and communication professionals need to be thinking about and some key takeaways:

  • Mobile first. All association sites and their publishing properties need to be constantly thinking mobile first. A lot is at stake and now is the time to address this issue.
  • Articlization. Big journal brands can be endangered by the breaking down of the world into just articles. If the world is seen through the lens of each article as opposed to the publication, erosion can occur. Aggregation and similar approaches can help spread your brand — instead of just waiting for your members to come to your site.
  • Open access. This important area continues to evolve. Keeping pace with the decisions that affect members, the public, and the bottom line are key. Have you re-examined your position lately?
  • Ad blockers and ad viewability. If you derive significant ad revenue from your publication or association’s websites, then these technical issues may soon become significant issues. Partnering with a knowledgeable party that understands the challenges is the best plan.
  • Search engine optimization. It is crucial to publications (and associations) to stay fully engaged and not become complacent. Significant advances are taking place in SEO/SEM, and they present opportunities.

Finally, it is important for an association to have a knowledgeable person who is charged with staying current with publishing trends. Proactive — notreactive — is the best approach.

A member of Association Media & Publishing’s Content Creation Committee, Andrew Shackelford has worked with and for associations for over 27 years. He has been involved in every aspect of publishing, from designing and writing association magazines early in his career, to later building and managing association publishing teams with responsibility for over 60 different titles. Shackelford joined Walsworth in 2013 as a sales representative.


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