Like many of life’s great dilemmas — Soup or salad? Peanut butter or chocolate? — when it comes to choosing a print or digital path for your university alumni magazine, the answer is simple: both.
By Paul Peterson
Your alumni magazine is a point of pride. Your alumni love to receive it, and you love to create it. But in an online world, is there really a need to print and mail a physical magazine? Isn’t it time for a digital alumni publication? Well, yes … and yes. You need both.
The Unique Power of Print
A well-written, beautifully designed alumni magazine stands out in mailboxes — instead of getting lost in overflowing email inboxes. This physical touchpoint allows you to create a special, tactile moment, encouraging alumni to slow down and sit down to enjoy in-depth storytelling and sweeping photography about your university and the impact of its students, faculty and alumni. These engaged readers aren’t distracted by the competing and easily clickable interests of the web.
Plus, like readers everywhere, alumni and other stakeholders have different preferred experiences when it comes to reading long-form content like features.
Creating an Interactive Hub
Print does have its limitations, though, such as limited space and a lack of interactivity. And that’s where a digital magazine content hub can play a complementary and essential role.
But taking your alumni magazine online is not as simple as creating a PDF or, worse yet, producing a hard-to-read, mobile-unfriendly flipbook. The best digital alumni magazines have their own independent interactive experiences similar to those of some of your favorite online magazines — publications like Wired, Bon Appetit or Rolling Stone.
And while your print magazine may mail just a few times a year, your online hub can (and should!) be updated with new content as often as possible. After all, due to the space constraints of a print magazine, there are plenty of stories you simply aren’t able to tell. Your digital hub lets you tell those stories (maybe even in a different format, such as a podcast) as well as expand on your print stories.
Developing web-only content is only part of the equation, though. You’ll also want to consider how you can best transfer print pieces over to a digital environment. Those long-form feature articles, for example, may work great in your print magazine, but what happens when you put that exact content online and your reader is skimming on a smartphone? Using a variation of the same content with different photos and graphics (that are easier to digest via a desktop or mobile experience) makes sense. And don’t forget, headlines and other display copy for print and online should vary as well. Print headlines tend to be pithier and more creative, while digital headlines usually get to the point more quickly and incorporate SEO considerations.
Moving your alumni magazine online also gives you an opportunity to explore expanded media options. You can add audio or video from the interviews you conduct, for example. Or you can build unique interactive elements. Plus, you can easily link users to desired actions, like updating their contact info or making a donation.
Print & Digital Content: It’s a Two-Way Street
Your print content may feed your digital alumni magazine hub, but digital content should also drive your print publication.
For example, if you know you’ll be running video or interactive content to accompany an online feature, you can incorporate icons in the print edition so readers can look forward to that expanded content. Or you can tease ancillary stories or photos that only live online within your print pages.
You could also encourage alumni to submit their own stories and profiles to the online hub and then select the standouts for longer, more professionally written blurbs in the magazine.
One of the biggest values your digital content provides is performance metrics. Monitoring page views and seeing what generates interest, comments, social media shares and clicks to donate can help you plan your print editorial calendar, creating that symbiotic relationship between print and digital that can generate greater returns on your investment.