More Than Printers: Adapting, Growing in the Age of Shifting Print Priorities

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Amid the ever-changing publishing landscape, the leading printers today have had become so much more than printing companies. This is a reality that Wayne M. Peterson, executive vice president and COO of the Lane Press, is all too familiar with. “The era in which we could define ourselves as printers is clearly behind us. I can only speak for the Lane Press, of course, but for us, our singular focus on magazine publishers makes this easy to understand,” Peterson says. This means that the Lane Press is also involved in workflow, back office procedures, professional services, and shared resources.

Sidebar: Assuming that interesting things are happening on the content side, what are some of the cool new printing technologies or techniques that association and nonprofit publishers should investigate?

Peterson: Actually, I don’t believe that cool printing technologies make that much difference. They do for us, but rarely for our publishers. Successful publishing isn’t dependent on technology adoption. Nor is it even dependent primarily on content. It’s really dependent on creating connections and that’s what association publishers in particular tend to do very, very well. They connect their members, of course, but they also tend to create a fabric of connections between sponsors and advertisers, their members, and even the customers their members serve. So the association publishers we see thriving tend to understand that creating that fabric of connections and making it very strong not only insures the future of the association, but serves their members incredibly well.

Sidebar: Does that drive for something more necessitate a push into digital?

Peterson: Interesting question. I see the reverse: brands that began solely as print are stretching, and not merely into digital. We’re seeing broadcast — video, podcasts, etc. — and events becoming very interactive with a print title. For example, one of our publishers launched a new brand early this year that included a print magazine, a large digital platform including social media, a 13-episode television program, and an event under a single brand.

Sidebar: Association and nonprofit publishing teams regularly face boards that look to cut back on printing activities to save money in their budget. What ammunition or advice would you give an association publishing team that finds themselves in this position?

Peterson: We started providing marketing research help for this reason. It’s very easy for an association executive to miss the role that their magazine or magazines play with their members. They tend to rely on anecdotal feedback from a handful of squeaky wheel members, some of whom are addicted to the latest and greatest.

A comprehensive member survey usually reinforces that the magazine is still the chief member benefit for most associations. Now, those running member education and certification programs, or a lobbying effort, or an annual meeting or conference tend to hate that feedback, and point immediately to the non-dues revenue they deliver. And there’s a strong case to be made for those contributions, to be sure. But when the magazine is seen as central, if not primary, and when the publishing workgroup gets the opportunity to collaborate with the education or certification folk, the meeting-events folk, and even the advocacy-lobbying folk, some interesting things happen. That’s because the only effective storytellers in the organization are often found in the publishing workgroup. They understand how to communicate to inform, to persuade, to entertain, and to transact. If you stack those skills and make the publishing platform interactive, it is amazing what those groups can make happen. Sideline editorial, isolate them, or marginalize them, and those things don’t happen.

This article was excerpted from the Facetime feature that appears in Signature’s Oct-Nov 2017 issue. Signature is a benefit of membership in Association Media & Publishing. Find out more about joining now.