magazines and technology

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Fifteen ways association magazines are using technology to make themselves the ultimate source for information and reader services.

Association environments are abuzz with phrases like “building a sense of community” and “creating families.” While the concepts have been around for awhile, technology–the great enabler–has pushed them to the forefront. Associations are harnessing their Web sites and other technology-based services to strengthen the ties that bind members to one another and to the core group. In many instances, a key objective is to position the organization as “the center of the universe” for information related to the association topic or field.

Magazines have generally been the most effective communication vehicles for associations, and they are critical elements in the new wave of initiatives. Magazines have not only been the traditional building blocks of association communities, they have also been at the center of the association’s information efforts. Although the electronic efforts of magazine staffs must be integrated with the strategic plans of their associations, technology is expanding the magazine’s organizational sphere of influence.

Ensuring that their print and Web magazines complement and promote each other has been the first order for most staffs. The process has been less straightforward than for many consumer magazines, however, since most association books represent only one click on the organizational Web site, rather than a stand-alone destination. The overall structure and design of the association Web site, of which the magazine is only one piece, is likely to be the responsibility of colleagues outside the periodicals staff. Blazing techno-trails becomes far more difficult when the overall organizational structure isn’t ready for it.

In terms of truly mind-blowing technology, only a few association magazines appear to be leaders. Resources, as well as the commitment and strategic vision of the association leadership, define possibilities. As a result, association magazine sites can range in sophistication from National Geographic’s interactive explorations to a packaged Web design purchased at an office supply store.

In any case, the trick is to adopt the concepts and devices that will strengthen the magazine, advance the organizational mission, and create a spirit of belonging–all within the unique context of the association environment. A recent informal survey of magazine staffs around the country turned up 15 straightforward, successful practices.

1. Archive past issues of the magazine. The archives are generally searchable. Access is often limited to members, but non-members, in some instances, can gain access by paying fees. Some associations have also established fees for members who want more than “basic” usage.

2. Provide supplementary information related to articles that appear in the print magazine. Articles published in association magazines often represent only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the information that can be provided by authors. Some staffs are publishing additional material, including, for example, charts and tables, bibliographics and links to other sources,

3. Offer chats with authors. Many staffs have found that authors are often willing to discuss their articles with readers. Chat rooms are usually limited to e-mail exchanges, but some staffs have staged video interviews with authors to complement, introduce or follow-up chats.

4. Create listservs for readers. Bringing together readers and members with shared interests in specific topics through listservs is a fairly common practice. Some association staffs have found that monitoring the listservs can be valuable–by helping them to identify current trends, concerns and needs, for example.

5. Update readers on late-breaking news. Critical news can be presented on the Web magazine, possibly in e-mails, or through other means. Both the electronic and the print magazine can provide more detailed coverage of important news stories.

6. Find staff. Many association magazines report that the Internet has become their best source for finding new staff members. Utilizing a variety of means–from spreading the word through a listserv, placing classifieds on the Web site, or responding to listings on other sites–association magazine managements appear to be finding their best staffing prospects in cyberspace.

7. Solicit reader feedback on particular issues of the magazine. Most association staffs can create targeted e-mail groups from among their readerships. Using either segments or the whole subscription list, e-mails that measure reader satisfaction or interest in any number of areas can be disseminated. While the surveys will not be scientific, many staffs are finding that, properly designed and utilized, they can provide useful intelligence.

8. Partner with advertisers. Through electronic displays of media kits, editorial calendars, contracts and ad specs, advertising procedures are being streamlined for some staffs. Even selling processes can be supported–if not managed–via e-mail.

9. Expand internationally. For most associations, the thorn in the global bubble has always been the cost of shipping magazines around the world. Electronic magazines on the Web site can be a powerful tool for pulling in international subscribers and members. In addition, full electronic versions of print magazines are now being distributed to subscribers or sold to other publics. The immediacy of these electronic versions is attractive to many readers, although many association magazines also give them the option of receiving a print version as well.

10. Outsource production processes. Many staffs, especially in smaller associations, are finding that technology makes the outsourcing of some processes practicable and even desirable. Working with “remote” contractors or other vendors in the area of design has become almost commonplace, for example (Like Samuel Little Graphic Design, they have the experience and know how to product award winning publications for any industry). Exchanges with freelance writers and editors have become much quicker and simpler to manage as a result of various technologies.

11. Run continuing stories. Sometimes association staffs publish articles with a “longitudinal” perspective; that is, they are stories that might add value for readers if they could be continued or revisited. For example, articles about the comparative development of twin babies, developments in accounting legislation, or someone’s weight-loss project might be followed over the course of time. Web resources make that process simple and help to keep readers connected.

12. Link authors to readers through their e- mails. In many association magazines, the e-mail address of virtually every author is part of the byline. Although author permission is obviously a vital feature of this initiative, buy-in from authors is usually the rule, rather than the exception.

13. Solicit subscriptions and renewals. Some associations have been slow to underwrite e-commerce technology, including the processes that enable subscription and renewal sales. In instances where subscription sales initiatives have been adopted, returns appear to be reasonable and, in some cases, excellent. The magazine’s ties to the association may sometimes promote subscription sales. Web site visitors may be attracted to the organization’s site by virtue of their interest in the association topic once they see a magazine devoted to the subject, they may become subscribers or members.

14. Promote spin-off publications. Large associations often create spin-off periodicals for special-interest groups. Linking these publications to the magazine Web site is a natural and can generate reader awareness and interest in the start-up magazines.

15. Handle complaints. Even in the best of worlds, readers sometimes want to register unhappiness. Some association magazines have found that setting up a place where readers’ voices can be heard is a good idea, especially when readership spans time zones. At the same time, it’s important that the complaint center be carefully monitored and that other contact be made when it’s appropriate.

Most association magazines have not fallen prey to the trap of “technology for technology’s sake.” Instead of feeling pressured to adopt “the next new thing” simply because it exists, staffs are focused on how technology can help to achieve goals and on how it can be harnessed to transform readers into families and neighborhoods.

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Deborah J. Schwab, column editor, can be reached at

Anne Graham, a consulting editor in Longwood, Florida, had been editor of Internal Auditor, and is currently managing director of the International Association for Management Education.

Samuel Little Graphic Design – designers of publications and periodicals.