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Publishing and Community
I really hesitate to use the phrase “perfect storm” here, because it has become so over-used since the movie of the same name was released more than a decade ago. Nonetheless, I think it is descriptive for what nonprofit publishers, like me, have experienced recently. But I’m a first time blogger here, so before I invoke that well-worn (but apt!) cliché, I think some context is in order.
My job title indicates that I am responsible for publishing and community at a Scottsdale-headquartered nonprofit profession association. In case you haven’t heard of WorldatWork, we have more than 20,000 members and annual revenues of around $20 million. Although, we serve members around the world, our average member works in the human resources department of a large company (5,000+ employees) in North America. My guess is that we are larger than the average Arizona nonprofit, in both employees and revenue, but if part of your organizational mission is to deliver information, content or education, this story may resonate.
Our publishing operation is extensive— it consists of a monthly printed magazine, a quarterly journal, various e-newsletters and about a dozen books per year. We have in-house, full-time editorial and creative staff. The good news for us has been that there are many consultants, vendors and other service providers who are eager to sell to and serve our membership. For about two decades, this situation has not only helped to offset our staff and operation costs, but has allowed us to have a successful publishing business, measured both financially and in member engagement.
Under this model, our revenue stream was bumping along for many years at a very consistent clip. Then, within the span of about one year, we saw nearly a 40% decline in advertising revenue. Obviously, it was a huge hit— due mostly to the recession. Our advertising has recovered, but I’m not sure our publishing business is going to make it all the way back to where it was at its peak in ‘07.
Here’s why. In case you haven’t seen people standing in line to buy iPads, the surprisingly-skinny Arizona Republic, or the data showing that Millennials are spending more time per week on YouTube and social media than network television, the content-delivery/publishing world is changing dramatically. What has happened is that “disruptive technology” has been introduced— namely, these digital devices that many of us are now carrying around.
In hindsight, it was almost a perfect storm for people like me (again, apologies for the over-used cliché). But at virtually the same time that marketing and advertising budgets were being slashed, our members— like everyone else— were increasingly seeing and accessing content in a variety of new formats. On a global scale, uploads of podcasts and YouTube views exploded, blogs, webinars, and apps all began to be consumed in substantial volume, and a short time later, social media began to show signs of becoming a business imperative. In other words, just as the revenue was drying up, nonprofit publishers were facing the challenge of delivering content in a variety of new formats, with the same number of staff— or maybe even fewer staff.
Most nonprofit publishers are still finding their way through this disrupted world. My organization is trying to remain nimble and consider new ways to deliver content all the time. But it has been difficult not to chase every new trend. We’ve had some success with video, blogs and podcasts— but monetizing these media is still pretty illusive. Some of the advertising has returned, but it has been generally lower than before, and compounding the situation: some advertisers are now asking for quantification of their advertising purchase on digital media, which they believe can be counted more easily than print media.
The key question for us now is: how do we staff and resource what we believe is necessary to generate and deploy content across all of the new media platforms (plus social media) in order to serve our mission? I believe this will be the great challenge of the next ten years for content delivery professionals, whether in the nonprofit or for-profit arena.
Ryan Johnson, Today: Husband, father of two girls, runner, reader. Ten years ago: health care dot-com consultant. Fifteen years ago: ASU Morrison Institute. Twenty years ago: Congressional staffer.
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Click here to read Abbie S. Fink's "Digital Communications: A Wise Investment."