Print or Digital for Your Association? Both!

Published by Gina Wentling | Topics: Associations, Blended Learning, Content Strategy, Fulfillment, Print, Training

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Print v Digital - SmallerHow do your members consume content? If you really want the answer, you’ll have to ask each person individually. It’s true that some members prefer to use print exclusively, and some that do everything online, but the vast majority of your members use a combination of the two. And that’s exactly what you should provide to them.

In his article for Association Media & Publishing, Daniel de la Cruz (co-founder of the London-based product design company ChangeLab 23) discusses the pros and cons of print and digital. Here’s a recap:

Print Plusses

  • You own the magazine you buy. You are free to keep it, lend it, or cut it up for a collage, scrapbook, or vision board. It’s all yours.
  • You may remember more of what you read. From the familiar sensation of turning the page to the physical act of writing notes in the margins, print books are full of signposts that lead to better retention.
  • You might pick one up on a whim. Digital purchases are less impulsive than looked-interesting-when-I-was-standing-in-line-at-the-grocery-store.

Print Drawbacks

  • You don’t get the very latest information. Once you print, that’s it. Printed pieces can’t keep up with changes like their online counterparts.
  • You lose sight of the bigger picture. With image-saturated websites, we’re used to big, splashy photos and graphics. In print, you still see mostly black and white (but not, sadly, read all over).
  • You can’t be sure how many to produce. How many customers will get to your product? How large a margin should you allow to meet the needs of readers without jeopardizing your bottom line?
  • You have a hard time gathering feedback. Did the cover article strike a chord with readers? Interaction is more difficult with an offline product.

Digital Plusses

  • You can spark discussions—immediately! Online content ignites debates.
  • You experience the content interactively. The printed sidebar becomes its own full page, for example, with bigger, brighter graphics.
  • You engage more with readers. If you offer your content in an app, readers will check in with it more than a printed piece that they’ll read and discard. Offering additional content online provides a good complement to print that keeps hot topics front-of-mind.
  • You can share content. When you read something good, you want everyone to see it. Social sharing builds a community around quality content. Use this instinct to connect to persuade people to read your content. Actively encourage comments.
  • You open your association up to more advertising opportunity. Banner ads are just the beginning. Sidebars, targeted ads, like-gates, and more give you options beyond ¼ page or ½ page.
  • You can track your responses. This valuable feedback (clicks, shares, comments, and the like) helps you learn what works for your audience and what messages need to be strengthened or abandoned.

Digital Drawbacks

  • You may find your content used elsewhere—without your permission. Once your content is live online, limited protections are available to you, compared to print.
  • You have to work extra-hard to keep readers engaged. The modern attention span is a worthy adversary! Comprehension and retention have suffered at its hands and your content might not get the full concentration you’d like.
  • You have to pay (through the nose) for optimization. Prioritize some content over others, or you’ll find that making articles easy to view on different operating systems will break your budget.

Bottom Line
Use surveys to gain understanding of how your membership prefers to consume content. For best results, offer three options: print materials only, online content only, or both (for a slightly higher price than either one separately). This is the model the New Yorker uses. Readers find it easy to opt for both.

Will this work for your association content? Maybe. It depends on the scope of your content and your mission. Ask your members for feedback and determine the best fit for the content you produce and the audience you serve.

Even if you decide print is the best match for you now, though, understand that the clock is ticking. If you haven’t yet developed a digital strategy, it’s time to start. The choice is no longer whether or not you’ll go online; it’s become a matter of timing and of degrees.


About Gina Wentling

During her time as Marketing Communications Coordinator (2013-16), Gina wrote hundreds of blog posts for Omnipress. Her work has also been published in association publications. Read More.

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