The Future of Association Magazine Publishing

Association magazines have always been more than a resource for members; they drive engagement and create tangible connection points that bridge members to the industry and one another. 

For many associations, the print magazine remains the centerpiece of a suite of communication tools. But as our forms of communication become more diverse, where does that leave the beloved flagship publication? 

To answer that, we looked to an expert: m3Magazines Director of Print Strategy, Ben Carpenter, who offered his insight into the future of association magazine publishing

Spoiler alert: The future is a totally doable combination of print and digital, and the future looks bright! 

Print and Associations: An Ongoing Love Story

To borrow from Mark Twain, reports of print’s death have been greatly exaggerated for decades now. This is especially true of association magazines, which are still going strong. 

“The content in association publications is something readers feel directly tied to: their industry, friends, neighbors, leaders or other members of an association that’s near and dear to their hearts, minds and/or wallets,” Carpenter explains. “For that type of content, people still want the tactile experience of a print magazine, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”

According to the News/Media Alliance, 67% of adults surveyed said that even in this digital age, they love the touch and feel of a printed magazine. Other studies have found magazines are implicitly more trustworthy than social media platforms. 

Magazine readers are also more inclined to take action — like seeking out more company info or visiting the advertiser’s website — after seeing an ad in a magazine, according to the News/Media Alliance. 

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Embracing the Digital Shift

While print is still holding steady, association magazines need to make sure they’re adapting to the changing ways that people receive and absorb content. 

“In tandem with the printed magazine, online or downloadable digital editions, social media, websites and blogs can all serve to expand the association’s communication ecosystem and create stronger connections to members,” Carpenter says. 

How? For starters, “Every association publication should have a digital version available on the association’s website for viewing or download,” he says. “That’s a must these days.” 

Ways You Can Start Embracing Digital

Digital editions can be as simple as an online flipbook or PDF version of the print publication. While this is an easy way to get the magazine online, it doesn’t embrace everything digital has to offer. Here are a few ways you can start embracing digital: 

Social media. Channels like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are useful for promoting magazine content, but they’re much more than that. Cultivating a social community allows your members to stay connected, and allows you to learn more about your members. Use social channels to tease magazine content, start meaningful discussions related to articles and encourage feedback. Which platforms you choose will depend on where your members naturally congregate and your capacity to keep up with posting.  

Blogs. Every magazine editor is well aware of the space limitations within the pages of your publication. This isn’t an issue online, which makes blogs a great way to delve deeper into topics you’ve addressed in the magazine. Offer web-exclusive content, extended versions of features or member interviews. 

Bonus: If your blog is ungated, meaning anyone can access it, it can also help draw potential members to your association. 

Email newsletters. Staying in touch with a weekly or monthly newsletter is a great way to get members excited about upcoming magazine content and stay connected. It’s much easier to slip last-minute or breaking news into an email newsletter than a monthly mag. 

QR codes. QR codes are having something of a renaissance. Digital barcodes have popped up on everything from posters to menus, ready for smartphone users to scan and connect. You can use QR codes on the pages of your magazine to lead members to enhanced content (like videos) event sign-ups or extended articles. Remember to use it sparingly, though: Plop one at the bottom of every page and your readers are bound to experience QR overload.  

Mobile. According to Technavio, “The growing penetration of smartphones and tablets is one of the key drivers supporting the magazine publishing market growth.” 

What does this mean for you? Your digital issues should be optimized for mobile. You can also use an app-building platform to create an app for your association. This allows for a more customized and interactive experience.  

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All of these channels serve to support your flagship — the magazine — while driving interest and engaging members in the ways they want to be engaged. 

Carpenter recommends using digital channels to deliver non-print content to members, such as video from an event, an audio clip from an association meeting, an interactive survey or an enhanced version of the magazine content.

Make Your Magazine Your Brand

According to The Future of Media report, print is still thriving, but “Successful magazines have reinvented themselves as brands that serve their audience via a range of channels, of which print is just one.” 

Savvy associations know how to use their magazine along with email, social media and web-based content to create an overall brand experience for members that meets them where they are with the information they crave. 

Expanding your content outside the confines of a print publication also opens up new avenues for advertisers. You may be able to sell print/digital packages to advertisers, offering them even more incentive to buy ad space. 

What Will the Future Bring? 

Our means of communication change so rapidly it can be hard to keep up. Social platforms come and go, and it can feel like just as you get used to one way of doing things, something new pops up and everything shifts (ahem, looking at you, AI).  

What doesn’t change is your members’ need to feel connected to you, the organization they care about. The delivery system may evolve and grow, but what’s most important is not to lose sight of your message. 

“The future of print magazines is very bright,” Carpenter says. “Print magazines will continue to serve a vital purpose and can do so even more effectively when supported by technology and new media.” 

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