When is Your Alumni Magazine Going Digital-Only?

“We have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format.”

– Tina Brown, Newsweek Editor.

When will your alumni magazine go digital-only? Next year? Five Years? 20 years?

Newsweek has been in weekly publication since 1933. Recently, it announced it would be going all-digital beginning in early 2013. The company will rename its publication “Newsweek Global” and deliver content through a combination of web and native apps.

Forbes pondered whether this signals “The Death of Print, or Just the Death of Newsweek?”

When asked about Newsweek’s decline, TIME Magazine editor Richard Stengel commented to MSNBC that the print magazine “is the most expensive single thing…to chop down trees, and put ink on paper and then put it on a truck and deliver it to your house.”

Over 5,800 advancement professionals appear in a LinkedIn keyword search for “alumni magazine”. Many careers will be impacted by the future of the alumni magazine.

We decided to evaluate the future of the alumni magazine in the context of the origins of the medium.

Dartmouth Alumni Magazine (DAM) was founded in 1905 by Ernest Martin Hopkins. DAM is published six times a year and mailed to more than 50,000 undergraduate alums of the College.


From its charter:

The goal is an informed and engaged alumni body. Therefore, the Magazine reports the news of the College and its alumni, provides a medium for the exchange of views concerning College and alumni affairs, and in other ways provides editorial content that relates to the shared and diverse experiences and interests of Dartmouth alumni.

Themes from DAM’s charter can be found in many higher education and independent school publications. If the goal of the magazine is an informed and engaged alumni body, what does the future hold if that goal can be better achieved through different mediums?

Bostonia magazine was founded in 1900 and has a circulation of 255,000. It is published three times a year in print and is updated weekly online.

Harvard Magazine was founded in 1898. The magazine’s frequency has decreased over time from weekly to bimonthly, “for good reasons having nothing to do with the stamina of successive editors, but rather with the realities of the magazine business.”

But the last time the frequency of publication was adjusted was in 1977, the Apple II’s breakout year.

What if alumni magazine leaders stopped publishing in print in 2013, and reinvested the capital saved in producing even better web, mobile and social content like Stanford’s Golf Cart Confessions or Cornell’s reunion livestreaming?

The CASE Member Magazine Readership Survey offers data about the average cost per copy of alumni magazines.

Assuming an average cost of $1 per copy, circulation of 255,000 and distribution three time’s per year, Bostonia’s print and distribution costs are approximately $765,000.

If not for a $1,559,455 contribution from the administration, Harvard Magazine would lose just over $1 million annually.

Earlier this year, Perry Hewitt, Harvard’s Chief Digital Officer and a regular on the Boston tech and startup circuit, blogged that “Organizations are trying to force-fit existing content and transactions to meet the needs of a new use case.” Alumni magazines are no exception.

I like receiving Brown Alumni Monthly and Harvard Magazine…but it’s rare that I haven’t already seen the best articles tweeted by @brownalumnimag (1,800 followers) or @harvardmagazine (17,000 followers).  The most engaging Brown related content I’ve ever seen recently went viral via social sharing. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an alumni magazine article covering that effort in a few months.

Imagine a world where you could cut print and reinvest the difference in amazing content.  What would you do?

An alumni magazine may soon be seen as an iPad that doesn’t work.

Ever True!

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