In our new series, we’re taking a look at some of the best membership magazines and journals in the sector. This month we’re with the General Teaching Council for Scotland and their publication, Teaching Scotland.
Evelyn Wilkins, Editor of Teaching Scotland, writes exclusively for us on the print-digital divide – do readers really prefer to read their magazines online?
A colleague with young children yesterday described to me how to play Pokémon Go. I’m not totally out of the loop – I had heard of the game – but couldn’t quite imagine how you could physically go out and search for Pokémon in your local surroundings. As he filled me in on the details of the latest app to have swept the nation, I found it absolutely fascinating: one step further towards blurring the divide between virtual reality and our ‘real world’ surroundings. Now as I write this blog and look up Pokémon Go on the internet, I see this is exactly what the game was designed to do.
Moving on to the world of professional magazines (with which you’re probably not yet seeing a connection); for me, this reflects an ongoing issue that I have grappled with since becoming Editor of Teaching Scotland: the print–digital divide and the reader transfer between the two platforms – hard copy and electronic.
Our readership, who are mainly school teachers, has voiced its preference for a print magazine. Yet a growing minority prefer to receive the magazine ‘digitally’ in some form or other. Many organisations have dropped their print publication, largely for money-saving reasons, and I am absolutely delighted that GTC Scotland hasn’t. While it’s difficult to know exactly how many of our 73,000 stakeholders read the magazine, research has shown that the quick move many organisations have taken to ditch their print publications has been a mistake. GTC Scotland’s recent stakeholder research found the issuing of Teaching Scotland five times a year to be perhaps the key association registrants made with the organisation. The magazine on the doormat provides a direct, tangible and regular link to their professional body.
And print is not dead – far from it. Recent research has indicated something of a resurgence of the medium. A printed publication remains the most valued channel of communication by the members of professional bodies and the most effective by professional bodies themselves (see Think Publishing’s recently published research ‘Re:member 4 – Trends in Professional Membership Communications’). Yet it’s essential that the print magazine doesn’t operate in isolation. With so many channels of communication now open to us, the challenge is how to use these together and in sync for best effect.
In September 2015, we relaunched our print magazine with a new design and format, introducing a section for opinion and dedicated pages for articles focusing on teaching practice and professional learning. Alongside this development I have been continually looking at ways to enhance the magazine’s digital presence. This has involved obvious steps, such as growing the Twitter account, but also developing a stronger transfer between the print and digital platforms by offering enhanced digital content, such as extended online features and videos, and making the links to such content easier for readers to identify. We also launched a new ‘flippy’ version of the magazine on PageSuite. But while our online readership figures are good, they are still small in comparison with our overall audience figures.
Over time, I’ve recognised that in fact a complete shift in our processes is required if we are to achieve our aspirations in the digital arena.
The current practice has been to work towards a ‘traditional’ print publication date – with content written, designed and proofed in a logical sequence prior to print distribution. Finalised articles are published online one week in advance of the print magazine.
I have always seen there to be a number of flaws with these processes. First, I don’t believe the digital offering should be a complete replica of the print offering. Content should ideally be re-written for the web. Second, the processes involved are very time consuming: content must be ‘stripped’ from the final PDF of the magazine and copied into Word, to then be added into the website CMS, article by article. Third, all the content is then published simultaneously; this means the magazine microsite is infrequently updated, with a deluge of content coinciding with the publication of the print magazine.
I have been looking at ways to introduce a ‘digital first’ workflow, which would see Teaching Scotland articles published online before only the very best of the content appears in the print magazine. With the new workflow, as content would be digitally published on an ongoing basis, the website would be refreshed much more frequently, supporting digital engagement and the success of the organisation’s e-newsletter and social media activity. I am now in the process of putting together a new web content and e-newsletter strategy, providing a timetable to work by that will help to make the digital first workflow a reality.
It is an exciting time in the digital development of not only Teaching Scotland magazine, but GTCS’s wider communications strategy, so watch this space.
What I’m really hoping to see is a marked blurring of the print–digital divide.
Please get in touch if you have any feedback on our approach or if you’d like to share practice: [email protected]