Associations Are Publishers: Three Ways to Rethink Your Organization’s Role


I’ve long held the assumption that our clients are publishers. Associations, societies, institutes, user groups and others hold as their mission, at the core, the duty to aggregate and disseminate knowledge — That’s the definition of a publisher.

Dan Loomis, our Director of Fulfillment Services talked about rethinking your printing and publishing strategy for 2010 and beyond. But before you think about your publishing strategy, let’s think first about your organizational strategy as a publisher.

In switching your mindset from being an association to being a publisher, try substituting the words “members” and “audience” for “readers” as you think about your organization. Your goal is to increase your readership, and your readers can be current or future members and attendees or the world.

Thus, as the role of a publisher undergoes unprecedented change as we face new media solutions, your organizations must adapt to the changing ways your readers learn and the growth of a sharing culture.

Three Ways to Remain a Relevant, Competitive Publisher

1. Use the resources around you
As you struggle to remain relevant, remember that you are not alone. A lot of money and resources are being put into solving the future business models and ways to share content.

Some of my favorites:

2. Develop a content strategy

Innovative strategy planning is becoming more and more valuable to any type of organization’s success. The best aggregation strategies are worthless unless you have an effective and affordable strategy to distribute your content. Content strategies don’t need to add costs – thinking through the process should focus on planning and leveraging content for multiple audiences.

The critical pillars to think through your sustainable content strategy:

  • Environment: “Being green” gets the most attention to content delivery, but are you making these decisions with your full content strategy in place? Focus on value and lean on your vendors to bring innovative, environmentally sound solutions that help you protect the value your readers place in content.
  • Social: How do you connect with more readers in ways that are meaningful and add value to the learning experience? Understand that your readers place different values on not just the type of publication, but also the way publication is delivered. The trick is to strive for inclusive solutions that offer more options to more readers.
  • Economic: Effective content strategies directly impact growth and economic viability. Non-profit success can be measured in reaching more readers for the same dollar investment. For-profit organizations need to maximize the shareholder value. BOTH are connected and driven by reaching more people.

3. Consciously co-create change

Be agile, willing to change and innovative. Experiment, try new things and protect your current readers. Survey your readers to understand how they value your content and the way content is delivered. When you consciously create change with your readers, you’re likely to come up with a blend of delivery methods and content that will please. We often see organizations rush to be perceived as progressive by abandoning traditional products in favor of the newest technologies. Are you leaving your members behind? Creating barriers to learning? Starving your members of access to content in the forms they value?

When It’s Time…

When you change your mind set to start thinking like a publisher, your content strategy planning should lead you to publishing content into inclusive, multiple channels – free and not-so-free — that increase your readership and help keep you a relevant association, society, institute or non-profit organization in the changing world.

The End of Publishing? Rethinking your Printing and Publishing Strategy

I recently attended the Content in Context Conference from the Association of Educational Publishers. Although the event was mainly targeted to the K-12 educational industry, I feel there are many lessons to be gained across the entire printing and publishing industry.

What I Learned from Teenagers about the Print and Publishing Industry

First some staggering statistics that were shared at the event. These may not be relevant to you and your industry, but I bet you can draw some interesting correlation with your area of the print and publishing industry.

  • Only 70% of American kids receive a high school diploma
  • 25% of freshman at a 4-year college drop out

Why? Kids drop out not because the content was too hard, but because they felt content wasn’t relevant to their lives. In other words, the content wasn’t being delivered in a way that they like.

A recent study shows how kids under 18 get their daily content:

  • TV: 4 hours a day
  • Music: 2 hours a day
  • Computer: 1.5 hours a day
  • Books: 0.38 hours a day

As you produce your products, this study raises the question… Are you producing products in media formats your consumers are using most often during the day?

Take a moment to really think about that. I think I just heard your eyes opening.

Where is Technology Headed?

None of us really know, but we all know that technology and those competing eProducts are here to stay. As a matter of fact here’s how Michael Johnson (Full Potential Associates) ensured AEP attendees that technology is here to stay.

“Recently in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the school system purchased 200 iPod Touches.” Johnson said, “Yes, Sheboygan, Wisconsin. When technology comes to Wisconsin, it’s EVERYWHERE!” The crowd exploded with laughter (referring that Wisconsin is not known for its technical progressiveness).

Does all of this eProduct and technology talk, mean that’s it’s all doom and gloom for the print industry? Many have been predicting the end of print as early as 1894 Yes, 1894…that’s not a typo. Don’t believe me? Read more about it.

Technology plays an important role in reaching people, but that doesn’t mean it’s replacing print anytime soon. Take the Washington Post for example. In 1999, its circulation of 786,000 was limited to just the DC area, and in 2009 with the internet at full throttle, their print circulation is still alive at 665,000 copies, but they were drawing nearly 9.4 million unique monthly visitors from around the world.

Since print has survived against all odds for so long, many are now changing their tune, and saying that content will be delivered in print AND digital formats for many years to come.

Why? Simply for the reason that printed content provides value to the end user that digital cannot…and vise versa.

Four Must-Dos for Every Publisher in the Association Market

  1. Don’t derail your business. Get your organization aligned with E-products, but don’t derail your core business while introducing them into your existing product offerings. Don’t disrupt your entire print business by hiring someone that only knows technology. You need to think about strategy from your organization level, not at a product level. If you hope to introduce eProducts, you’ll need to hire those with knowledge about Associations and eProducts.
  2. Keep making great content. Content creation is important, but begin making the move from content to services. Content will become a commodity (and eventually become FREE, if it’s not already!). The barriers to bring content to market are being removed by technology. An increase in content in the market will drive down price.
  3. Listen to your customers. Involve your customers in the development process when creating E-product solutions – during planning, during design, during implementation… be a partner!
  4. Reverse your thinking about the future of print. 1894 has come and gone. eProducts are here to stay, but it doesn’t mean print is gone. This clever video will help you change your mindset in how you look at the future of print.
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