Digital Magazines for Associations

By • May 5, 2010

As the persistent economic downturn collides with an explosion of new personal technology innovations, one of the most talked about areas of publishing lately has been the evolution of digital magazines (aka eZines). Advances in bandwidth, monitor size, and, more recently, portable digital platforms (like the iPad), have helped publishers of all-size organizations hasten the delivery of electronic versions of their print titles. The most important drivers of this growth have been the ease of conversion for publishers, the familiarity with the eZine format for readers, the pressure on associations to streamline member communication costs, boost sources of non-dues revenue and reinforce the value of their member benefits.

Your members and sponsors are ready for eZines. Why not reel them in?

In its most common format, a digital magazine is an enhanced portable document format (PDF) version of the original print title. Publishers typically deliver a finished PDF to a third party converter, and the file is transformed into something that is easy to view, zoom, search and interact with.

For publishers, there is no need to have a staff of Web designers converting these print publications into HTML for posting on their website. This saves them both time and money, and just as importantly, allows them to provide an electronic alternative to those readers who prefer it. And, perhaps most importantly, a digital edition allows many association publishers to increase their distribution and audience reach at virtually no additional cost. Adding 5,000 new members to a print edition can cost a significant amount of money for printing and postage. Additional cost for the digital edition to 5,000? Zero.

  • Minimal editorial and production staffing is needed to convert print publications into HTML for posting on your organization’s website.
  • Digital magazines are a valuable member benefit that saves associations time and money.
  • Digital magazines allow many association publishers to increase their distribution and audience reach at virtually no additional cost.
  • Digital magazines provide readers with a richer experience with articles (and advertisements) than can be enjoyed via print edition or Web site alone.


For the typical association member, a digital edition of the organization’s magazine provides a familiar visual experience. The layout and navigations make it easy to find your favorite features, departments and columnists right where you’d expect to find them in the print addition, but the digital edition enhances your reading experience by allowing you to link out to extra features, statistics, photos, video clips and other resources that would be space intensive (or technologically impossible) to include in the print edition.

By the way, this rich engagement experience for readers applies to the advertisements as well as to the editorial content.

Most eZines include easy-to-use navigation tools and buttons that provide readers with easy access to past issues, readers surveys, polls and comments.

Non-dues revenue source
For the advertiser, the additional exposure you receive through the digital edition has value, but even more importantly, provides immediate and measurable ROI. Ads in digital editions are typically hyperlinked and can be easily reported on. Also, this format enables advertisers to tell more compelling stories by using Flash animation and other “rich media.” This generally translates into higher ROI for both advertisers and publishers because dynamic rich media ads are more than twice as likely as static print and banner ads to be remembered and clicked upon. What’s more, research shows advertisements in digital magazines tend to be more trusted than ads in other digital media.

A recent survey from Smarter Media Sales and reported in The Center for Media Research found that digital magazines compare favorably to other electronic media when it comes to advertising and reader experiences. Researchers found that 70 percent of surveyed digital edition readers were less likely to ignore display ads in digital magazines than on websites and interactive magazines were viewed for 20 to 30 minutes while the average website visit lasts eight to nine minutes.

Nearly four in five (79%) respondents said ads in digital editions were more credible than ads in other electronic media and the study also found that two in three (63.2%) respondents believed ads in digital magazines to be more helpful than ads in other electronic media.

The future
What I have outlined here would be best described as version 1.0 of the digital magazine. These features, forms and practices are relatively mainstream already. Naylor produces products like these for the majority of its current periodical customers, and they are well received by our association clients, advertising clients, and users.

What does the future hold? With the much-touted release of Apple’s iPad, magazine publishers are being challenged to go beyond traditional print magazine layouts for their digital editions. Although digital magazines offer some interactivity, their print-centric layouts do not take advantage of the interactivity and integration available within other online applications.

British design house Berg has an intriguing video of what digital magazines of the future might look like. You can watch the video here. Other publishers (TIME, Wired, Sports Illustrated, just to name a few) are just now starting to experiment with these highly interactive new formats. The expected dominance of the iPad has sped up development of these types of applications, as it appears to be uniquely (for now) suited to this type of portable delivery and navigation.

I don’t think anyone can really say which of these enhanced features and delivery platforms will truly add value, and which will mainly be seen as “cool,” but not useful. Two things are abundantly clear though. First, unique, useful content will continue to be your most valuable asset in attracting and engaging audiences. Information is everywhere, and publishers must add-value to that information to earn the loyalty of their audience. Second, content of the future will not conform to the traditional publishing models. Audiences want to be able to access content whenever and wherever they want without having to choose one format over the other. Digital magazines version 1.0 have offered publishers an easy way to bring their print audiences online. Immersing them deeper into the content is the next stage, and interactive digital magazines created exclusively for online distribution will be the vehicle.

As the leading association and voice of your industry, you have thousands of influential readers on the hook. Now it’s time to reel them in.

Marcus Underwood is vice president and general manager of NaylorNet the online media solutions division of Naylor, LLC.