A few years ago,
associations felt pressured by the “Go Green” philosophy to stop
printing and to put their conference content and publications online.
However, the underlying motive to go online was fiscal combined with the
desire to take advantage of the surge in new technologies and faster
Today, “Go Green” is no
longer an association reaction to external pressure, but rather it’s an
environmental stewardship awareness that’s built into every thought and
decision regarding the production and distribution of association
content. How can only the necessary content be produced without waste or
In addition, the global economy certainly contributed to associations
carefully scrutinizing their expenditures. The costs associated with
printing conference material were no
exception. The survival of many
associations depended on reducing costs, while increasing membership
value. Not an easy formula for success.
Associations were searching for a ‘Silver Bullet’ solution. Putting
content online seemed the logical choice and “everyone was doing it.”
New mobile devices and Wi-Fi connectivity
had forever changed the
landscape of content distribution. In addition, these online
technologies eliminated some of the historical difficulties associated
with print production:
and shipping materials is costly.
production cycles are not conducive to last-minute changes.
material is dated. Appending late material is often not done
because of expense.
disposal of overproduced quantities is wasteful and
doesn’t like the hassle of handing out on-site materials.
attendees seem to prefer content online.
multiple printers and/or fulfillment houses is challenging.
valuable internal association staff time for shipping
The Explosion of Online Content
Explosion of Online Content
|Associations viewed online
technology as a viable alternative to print primarily because of
cost factors, as well as being able to increase content
circulation and extend their marketing
reach without increasing
distribution costs. New technologies such as Android and Apple
devices provided users the ability to read content nearly
anywhere and at any time. As Internet
speeds increased and Wi-Fi
became more prevalent, the demand for content on mobile devices
grew accordingly. Finally, 24/7 content consumption became
possible: members can
access relevant content whenever and
however they want and on a multitude of mobile devices.
Today many associations are beginning to embrace the benefits of an
online solution by creating central repositories of ALL association
content in a single online location. Central
repositories serve as an
online library of industry rich content produced by the association
along with hyperlinks to other online resources. The Society for
Maintenance & Reliability
Professionals (SMRP) has created an online
SMRP Library of Knowledge,
a great example of how associations can create a central repository with
rich content from
publications to conference proceedings.
Placing content online also allows associations to generate revenue in
ways much more versatile than in printed format. Content can be sold by
file, chapter, conference, etc. It no
longer needs to be event specific.
Content can be sold and distributed by topic, subject matter, across
proceeding and publications. Content purchases can be customized to meet
the user’s requirements.
Placing content online was quickly recognized to be a great marketing
tool. Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo naturally became an
extension of an association’s
marketing arm. By making association
content more findable associations remain more relevant.
Print and Online Media Options Meet Different Needs
stop thinking about replacing one media with another. Instead, they
should think about how print and online technologies can complement each
also need to think about how doing either impacts their
association’s overall strategies. It is important to remember people
want to consume content in different formats based
upon what the content
is and why the learner is accessing it. A bibliography is easily and
conveniently accessed online; whereas one may prefer to attend an
complete with printed session handouts, to hear the
keynote presentation by the leading light in the industry
Associations typically produce content for conferences, publications and
continuing education courses. We will consider each of these types of
productions and discuss the
possible application of print and online
Quantities and demand for the printed conference proceedings have
decreased substantially for most educational events. In fact, the quest
for the “paperless
meeting” seems to
goal for most conference planners. Cost is a primary driving factor for
this change, but other factors such as the ease of distribution and the
type of content itself (scholarly
papers being replaced by with slide
presentations) are strong influencers to this online strategy.
Let’s start with large bound printed conference binders. These are
sometimes being replaced with the individually printed handouts being
distributed in each session room. However,
in most cases, the printed
proceedings (and/or other educational handouts or recorded sessions)
along with the program/agenda are put into an online approach.
materials provide associations many options to control access to this
portal making it an attendee only offering, or opening it up to the
greater public… something
they couldn’t do with print. Many associations
are seeing the year-over-year proceedings archive as an opportunity to
provide its members a year round resource. Other associations
this conference content as part of their marketing and membership
strategies to be more discoverable by search engines as well as offering
different access models (some
of which are a revenue source). One
example is the Transportation Research Board who is taking their annual
meeting materials which consists of 2,250 technical papers and 3,500
oral and poster presentations, and creating a multi-year archive which
attendees can access for free and the greater public can use for a fee.
Associations are also
offering attendees the option of purchasing printed conference
proceedings at the time of registration. In the context of the average
attendee spending up to
$2,000 to attend an event, an additional $20 for
the printed proceedings seems reasonable and more fitting for a society
that is used to having a multitude of choices.
The printed program may
more commonly be used at the conference when attendees are reading the
session details and organizing their daily schedules. However, this
piece is beginning to face pressures from the online/mobile
strategy where attendees can use their smartphones to access their
itineraries and program information.
In the end, there is no
one way solution. The combination of print and online is critical to the
attendee experience. Whether attendees are at home, in the office or at
providing multiple formats allows them to consume
content when and how they want it. Issues traditionally associated with
printing should not prevent the production of printed content
if this is
the most preferred format. And likewise, associations may need to be
thinking bigger than just putting this year’s session handouts online.
publication” means something different to each association.
Associations may produce journals, or several titles consisting
of resource manuals and reference guides. The traditional model
for printing and providing these publications is changing too.
Print on demand and e-versions of publications have folded into
the mix creating more options and more complexities for those
managing their publications.
When printing resource manuals and reference guides, most associations
produce large volumes to take advantage of lower per unit cost, and to
replenish store inventory
for anticipated future orders. This printing
model has been followed for many years. Today, associations are using
print on demand options to carry smaller inventories.
Even though the
cost per unit is increased, the overall print cost is less as unwanted,
outdated inventory does not need to be disposed of.
To reduce costs and meet the demand for online content, some
associations have begun distributing journal content using online
magazine solutions: a great way to increase
increasing print and shipping costs. Like conference materials, the
opportunity for reaching a new audience, lowering costs and being able
to track usage is a big advantage for e-publications. However the
printed journal is not completely eliminated since there are members who
prefer a printed copy over an online version. But this
reduction in the
circulation quantities has a positive impact on the bottom-line.
Publications used as reference guides might be better suited to an
online Knowledge Center, where members can access publication content in
a central online association
content repository. Online Knowledge
Centers have many search and navigation features that make finding
relevant content very easy for users. Laptops and tablets can both
utilize the advantages of online distribution.
For associations, eBook or page-turning software options are better
choices for publications that will be read cover to cover, rather than
as reference guides. Typical uses include
reading on a tablet while
sitting in bed or maybe on the commuter train.
Now that one in six Americans own an eBook (according to a Harris survey
July 2011), an online distribution strategy such as eBooks makes sense.
Associations are not alone in
their development of an eBook strategy.
Universities such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the
University of California-Berkeley will be participating in an
spring of 2012 to test moving printed
course books to e-formats to learn the impact of costs, education and
preferences. With eBooks comes a few natural challenges
anything online: conversion of content and distribution. EBooks lose
page-by-page integrity so users can resize text to fit their needs. And,
distribution also has many
unique challenges. The biggest challenge is
profitability. Many online distribution models make it difficult to earn
substantial revenue since many distributors take 40-60% of retail sales.
Whether it’s online or
a print on demand strategy, both need upfront planning and ongoing
monitoring to ensure its success.
Continuing Education Training
The explosion of putting content online is a little different for the
association training events. Although there are many online educational
courses and credentialing opportunities for
training with onsite printed materials is not going away (or declining
rapidly) any time soon.
Our most recent survey, "The Impact of Educational Material on On-Site
Training,” was taken by over 280 association personnel directly
responsible for producing continuing
education programs for their
organizations. They indicated printed material was the preferred format
for face-to-face, instructor-lead continuing education events (81.7%).
They also indicated that printed material, such as a course book, was an
effective or highly effective learning tool for on-site courses (87.7%).
Course participants can easily
follow along and take notes on important
points or topics.|
To manage costs, reduce waste and keep materials current associations
are producing printed course material on demand which allows them to
produce exact quantities for
each event. For example, The Appraisal
Institute produces printed material for over 800 training events each
year, and the exact quantities ordered are sent directly to the
site. The Appraisal Institute is able to manage costs, because there are
no charges for overprints, and there is never any outdated material to
be disposed of.
Print on demand solutions are more than a means to manage costs. They
also allow associations to increase brand awareness as training content
is more frequently updated.
The distribution of new, relevant content is
a great way for associations to market their brand. If content requires
more frequent updates to ensure training contains the industry’s
findings, laws and regulations, print on demand is also an excellent
Even though print was indicated as a preferred format in our survey,
that’s not to suggest associations aren’t thinking about an online
solution to complement the on-site training
experience. Our findings
indicate associations are beginning to allocate more of their training
budgets to an online solution. In fact, 26.8% of respondents indicated
50% or more
of their total 2012 training budget is being allocated to an
online solution. That was nearly a 7% increase over the previous year.
Nothing startling, but early trends toward online
emerging. For many, an online solution consists of allowing course
participants to access and download study material before the actual
on-site course. This is a
perfect example of combining technologies. The
online component helps participants prepare while the printed course
book allows them to learn effectively in a face-to-face
Staying Relevant to Your Members
The Internet is forever changing the association landscape when it comes
to publishing its content. It is forcing associations to make better
decisions on manage costs as well
as keep members happy. It’s not about
changing from print to online. It’s about staying relevant in
fast-moving, competitive world regardless of which media is used.
Coauthored with Christopher