Why You Need a Publishing Benchmark

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The newly released AM&P Publishing Benchmark Study is helping associations, nonprofits, and alumni communications professionals identify trends that may require a shift in their strategy.

By Lou Ann Sabatier

Recently, I interviewed Mike Fernandez, the U.S. CEO of Burson-Marsteller, about content and identifying new business opportunities. He is a communicator in a multi-platform, data-driven communications industry that is built on ideas and content. One insight Mike shared is that questions can be more important than answers as they force us to come up with better ideas and actions. So, what questions could association publishers be asking right now?

AM&P’s new Publishing Benchmark Study can help. A benchmark is a starting point for asking questions. How do I compare on this social media practice? How do my compensation costs compare to those of similar organizations? If we’re similar or different, why might that be? Are we underperforming or over performing? And what might we do about it?

Here’s how you might gain insight from the study:

  • Spot areas of potential concern that may need further analysis — the first step in a process-improvement exercise.
  • Identify target metrics that other publishers have achieved.
  • Pinpoint trends that may spawn an adjustment in strategy.
  • Ensure performance and financial metrics are within industry norms.
  • Justify staffing levels, compensation, new initiatives, and the continuation or discontinuation of programs.

Here are a few characteristics of flagship publications that you might find interesting, as reported by the AM&P survey respondents:

Format preference for almost all respondents (91 percent) is some form of print and digital. The most common type of publication is magazine print (75 percent) and digital (59 percent) versus electronic newsletter (30 percent) or journal (21 percent print and 21 percent electronic). Interestingly, none of the respondents reported converting their flagship print publication to completely digital in the past year.

Frequency cited most often for publishing the flagship publication is monthly (39 percent). About a third (30 percent) publish bimonthly and 20 percent publish frequencies between 7x and 11x per year. Most respondents (84 percent) did not change their frequency in the past year while 9 percent decreased frequency and 7 percent increased frequency.

Print Run annual average copies printed is 316,536. The largest percentage (39 percent) printed from 100,000 to 300,000 copies within the last year. One-third print fewer than 100,000 copies per year and 22 percent print more than 300,000 copies per year. The largest annual print run is close to 2.7 million.

Distribution average for member copies (free and paid) per issue is 31,302. Eighty-seven percent of respondents distribute 55,000 or fewer total copies (paid or free) per issue of their flagship publication. The average non-member distribution is 758 paid and 4,978 free per issue. Eighty-two percent of respondents distribute 200 copies or fewer per issue as paid single copy or bulk.

Editorial-to-advertising ratio average per year is 62 percent editorial pages to 38 percent advertising pages.

Average number of editorial pages published annually is 718. Almost 58 percent of the respondents publish 500 or fewer pages per year while 42 percent publish more than 500 editorial pages per year. Professional associations publish one-third more editorial pages per year (837) versus trade associations (556). About two-thirds (63 percent) of the total respondents offer reprints of their content with almost half (46 percent) charging for reprints.

Advertising that is paid appears in almost all (91 percent) flagship publications. The average number of advertising pages published annually is 275. Sixty percent publish 200 or fewer pages per year and 26 percent publish 201 to 500 pages per year. Thirteen percent publish more than 500 ad pages per year and this group is comprised mostly of monthly frequency with medium to large staffs.

This is a small sampling of the interesting data as reported by your peers in the 140-page AM&P publishing benchmark report. Topics covered include flagship publications, content practices, revenue sources and challenges, resource allocations, web and social media trends, and more.

Lou Ann Sabatier is principal of Sabatier Consulting.


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