The University of Michigan eliminated its costly print alumni magazine and now produces Michigan Today in a digital format ten times a year.
While still a flipbook online, The Rhode Island School of Design produces a gorgeous print magazine – XYZ – that translates well online in the most basic digital format. All alumni receive the print magazine.
Every college and university falls somewhere in between these two periodical strategies. What is best for the institution’s dwindling budget, however, is not always best for their goals. Saving money by eliminating the print edition or limiting the distribution to a subset of alumni or donors may work for some, but overall, it’s an issue worth studying rigorously before such a change is made.
The number of print magazines in the United States has lingered around 7,000 for the past decade. The number ebbs and flows and some dip out while new ones are developed. At present, the top five most thriving magazines, in terms of revenue and circulation are: People; Better Homes and Gardens; AARP; National Geographic and Reader’s Digest. When you dig down into the demographics, you find a few surprises, and a few expected things. What is most notable is that the only common denominator among the five is that their readership is highly educated. The majority of readers and subscribers to the top five have some college education, and there are high percentages of bachelor’s and master’s degreed readers.
What does that tell alumni magazine editors? Our alumni, regardless of age, are generally inclined to consider print magazines relevant and important in their lives. Even Millenials are still drawn to printed periodicals, but they heavily supplement with online media. Digital magazines, if measured by paid content, are not doing very well with any audience groups. And there is good reason for all of this. There is so much free content available, that paying for it feels better when you have something to hold in your hands. Only the most in-demand and unique information is intriguing in a paid digital format.
If alumni magazines are intended to build bridges and create engagement, then a digital strategy is important to enhance the printed product. However, many universities are simply reverting to flipbooks – and unless your design is as vibrant as RISD’s, it may fall flat in the translation. The way that digital content works best is modeled by the sites we most often frequent – Amazon and our favorite retail online destinations. We return, not only because of the customer service and convenience, but because they are intuitive to our needs and interests.
A new company, Cerkl, is introducing an e-mail product that shows amazing promise for delivering colleges and universities easy solutions to serving up intuitive content to our alumni. All self directed, alumni choose what they want to know and Cerkl’s search function combs through your Web content and SEO keywords and delivers it to them in a simple, yet powerfully personal e-mail – and readers choose how often they want to receive it. As an alumna of Penn State, for example, I really only care about my program – Education, some athletic teams – but not all, my social clubs and my favorite professors. Their product lets me designate those only and as often as I choose, an e-mail is sent with only information on only content of my interest. That said, you have the opportunity to plug in important institutional messaging as well if you so choose. It’s looking like a great replacement for building a whole digital magazine – let the tools dig through existing content and give it more exposure to those who care about it the most. What is most intriguing is that you don’t have to set it up and build bridges as with i-modules and other related products. Their tool scrolls through your site and varied servers and pulls the content forward. No work on your part.
So, the future of magazines may indeed lie in personalized content delivered when, as often and in a format that the alumni reader desires. We still continue, for the most part, to push information out and miss the sacred opportunity to pull our alumni in. The alumni magazine, in this humble marketer’s opinion, is not dead. But, it needs a rethinking and a digital strategy driven by our alumni and what they want and need in their continuing relationships with their alma mater.
Rethinking your alumni magazine and strategies around alumni communications? LML Marketing & Communications has worked in many redesigns and in the strategic development of digital content strategies. Let us know if we can help.
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