I can't help but think about the medium-term implications for alumni magazines. According to CASE, alumni magazines are the primary way that alumni receive news about their alma mater. Unfortunately, it is extremely expensive for schools to produce the high quality publications alumni have come to expect...
It's not a stretch to imagine a world in which alumni relations and communications professionals can provide digitally-enhanced alumni magazine content via devices like the iPad while cutting out the high production and distribution costs.
I don't think we should assume that just because we have a magazine in print, we need to convert it, more or less as is, to an electronic format. Why produce a "digitally-enhanced" anything? Can we instead use the digital tools to create something that is completely new?
Yes, we could. But there are legitimate obstacles to doing so, such as the following:
- It is hard to invent a product that doesn't fit into one of the existing categories: mobile app, digital magazine, or web site.
- Existing frameworks can provide multimedia and interactive features that supplement existing publications, with only minor changes to written content.
- Minor changes, under the familiar magazine title and logotype, make it easier to bring along loyal readers.
- Retaining the current personnel and staff structure means that senior administrators don't have to make radical changes to their organization.
- Small risks are acceptable if the cost of failure is commensurately small.
What's the other side of this argument? A potential disadvantage of taking baby steps, or following others, is that publishers miss an opportunity to lead through innovation, and may miss their best chance at keeping up with savvy readers' increased expectations of technology.
Perhaps the simplest and most common argument against embracing portable formats is this: "The field is changing too fast, and committing to a specific platform may cause problems later."
Fair enough: when fickle consumers abandon the Kindle for the iPad or the iPhone for the Android, you need your content to migrate with their preferences. The technology is new and changing rapidly, but not choosing online options now will increase the likelihood that your shop falls behind readers' expectations later.
In the end, for all but the most entrepreneurial publishers, the marginal cost of repurposing existing content for a new platform (like the iPad) makes doing so the best opportunity for short-term change.
This raises a few questions...
- Can you innovate without alienating core readers, who know and enjoy the traditional magazine?
- Which direction will help you achieve your mission (and not just be "change for the sake of change")?
- What resources will you need to innovate?
- the delivery format selected,
- the accessibility of popular content (which raises privacy issues), and
I'll look briefly at these three issues in part two of this post, on Thursday.
Are you with me so far? Leave a comment.