Is your alumni magazine worth paying for?

Every year, your school likely invests six figures to produce, print, and mail your alumni magazine. You and your team spend thousands of hours on it.

Hopefully, you’re really proud of it!

But it’s time to ask what might be a really sobering question. Would your alumni pay for it?

If you had to put a price tag on the most recent issue of your magazine, how much would the average alum pay for it? How much would devoted alumni pay?

  • Would they pay $9, the cost of The New Yorker?
  • Would they pay $6, the cost of Esquire?
  • Would they pay $2, the cost of Woman’s World?

Worse – would they save that $2 and buy a Snickers?

For some of you, this is just a thought experiment. For others, including folks whose magazine is the primary tangible perk of an alumni association membership, it’s part of a very real equation.

No matter where you find yourself on that spectrum, it should be a real question for everyone who sends out a magazine to alumni and donors.

Understand what your magazine is worth.

It’s relatively easy to measure the cost of your magazine in terms of art and writing and design budgets, and in terms of printing and mailing costs.

But there’s a harder — and more important — measurement that you should always be trying to understand better:

What is the value of the magazine to your readers?

This value is independent of your magazine’s cost to your institution, and if you’re doing your job well, your magazine’s value may be much higher than its cost.

Your readers demonstrate the value they place on your magazine, in part, by writing in with a class notes submission, sending donations, or even clamoring to become subjects of profiles or features. They may demonstrate its value by setting it on their coffee table or spending 30 minutes reading the class notes, a profile, and a feature.

Now ask yourself another question.

What could make your magazine more valuable to your readers?

Think in terms of what your reader wants — and maybe what you find yourself gravitating to in your own alumni magazine.

It might not be the things you typically think about when you’re putting together your publication.

For example, if you think about what your readers want, it might be:

  • More robust class notes, especially as folks flee social networks such as Facebook. Yes, your alumni might want to know about the classmate who had a baby or got married, but maybe one of your alums would find real value in learning that a hallmate from sophomore year is now a VP at their dream company. That information could help reignite a connection and lead to new job opportunities. Maybe they just want to hate-follow someone in their orbit.
  • A donation envelope that makes it easy to give if they wish, without going to your school’s website.
  • Stories about beloved faculty, coaches, and staff members who had an impact on their lives. In this fascinating story, the final three paragraphs indicate the importance of these campus icons to the long-term financial health of your institution.

There are likely dozens of things that you could put in the magazine for which your readers would be willing to pay cold, hard cash. They might not be the things your administrators would choose 100 percent of the time. They might not be what you would choose 100 percent of the time!

But the magazine is for your readers.

And those things listed above are all things that only your magazine can do for them.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do plenty of other stories! There’s likely tons space in your publication to publish fun front-of-the-book pieces, heart-tugging features, and nuts-and-bolts stories about strategic plans and new hires and new initiatives.

If your magazine has a few pieces and departments in every issue that reliably hook your alumni, they’ll probably trust you enough to give you a few more minutes of their time. They’ll probably find their way to the other stories that you and your administrators would love for them to read.

Invest in your magazine.

But more important: invest in your reader, and they will invest in you.