Each December, I share my predictions for print alumni magazines in the coming year.
To say these past couple years have been more unpredictable than most is an understatement!
Still, over the past 12 months, I’ve spent countless hours studying your magazines. I’ve talked to dozens of you about what you’re thinking about and worried about. And I’ve worked with many of you on projects that will come out between now and 2023 (!!!).
Based on my analysis, here are my predictions for what’s next:
Prediction #1: Magazines will feature lighter and more joyful stories
In a survey I did of alumni magazine editors back in July 2020, just 6 percent of respondents thought they’d be doing any Covid coverage at all in 2021.
It’s been a slog! No matter what comes next, I think almost all of us are ready to tell some different, lighter stories.
Not “lemonade out of lemons” stories. Not “resilience in the face of adversity” stories.
Nope. We’re ready to tell stories of unalloyed joy and positivity.
The great thing is that alumni magazines are perfectly tailored for this type of storytelling.
Readers open up your magazine not because they expect grim reporting about the world’s imminent implosion or teeth-grinding shenanigans by politicians or celebrities.
They read it because they want to learn about good things in the world. They want to know about research that could make our lives easier or better, about alumni who are doing truly delightful and meaningful things, and about classmates they adored but haven’t thought about in years.
Your magazine can be a source of joy for your readers. 2022 is the year that we’re all going to be doing more to lean into that.
Prediction #2: There will be more new and revived print magazine launches
In late 2020, I surveyed editors whose publications had gone digital during the acute phase of Covid. (You can read the report that I developed based on that survey here.)
More than 75 percent of respondents expected to do more digital issues — and perhaps go digital only for all future issues.
That digital shift, for the most part, hasn’t gone well.
The path looks like this:
First, alumni readers get mad that their print magazine is gone.
Then, your institution slowly falls off their radar. The goodwill you’ve spent years building through those quarterly or tri-annual print magazines begins to disintegrate.
To alumni, it begins to feel like you’re taking them for granted.
And now you’ve got to start almost from scratch.
Don’t believe me? You can see a case study of this cycle here.
Many people are reaching that final stage now — and recognizing that the six-figure investments they’ve been making in their magazines are indeed well worth it in terms of the goodwill they engender, the philanthropic pipelines they create, and the opportunities for engagement that they open up.
I believe we’ll see quite a few more print magazines being developed (or re-developed, reimagined, or refreshed) in the next 12 months as more schools realize that their forays into digital-only magazines have cost them far more than than the money they may have saved on printing and mailing.
Prediction #3: Editors will lean more intentionally into print magazine’s strengths
For almost as long as schools have had websites, editors and communications teams have dreamed of finding a magical way to make their print and online communications interchangeable.
They want to take the print feature they developed and easily turn it into a web feature, or to turn that campus news story that appeared online into a story for their print publication.
But despite their similarities, print and online storytelling are different beasts.
Here’s just one tiny example: to get traction, that online story is going to have to have a workhorse headline that focuses on keywords and SEO optimization. That makes sense, because that’s what web readers are looking for!
A print headline, though, can be witty and joyful. It can incorporate photography and design in ways that online headlines simply can’t.
Here’s another: beautiful campus photos can be arresting across a two-page spread in a print magazine. Good luck capturing that sense of immersiveness when the photo is a three-inch square on your reader’s smartphone.
Print readers want something different from the material they’re skimming, scanning, and scrolling through online for hours each day.
Print opens up storytelling possibilities that are all but impossible online.
Good luck creating a complex flowchart, network, or matrix for that web story you’re working on. There’s no way your readers will be able to fully absorb or appreciate it on their smartphone. In print, though, across a spread? These storytelling tools are magical.
After many of us have experienced the limitations of online publications and storytelling due to Covid restrictions and cuts, we’re going to experiment with storytelling that’s possible only in print.
Prediction #4: Editors will aim to do more coffee table–storytelling
In previous years, I’ve predicted that campus news sections will get trimmed or disappear entirely. In general, there are better ways to tell stories about successful sports seasons, recent hires, or new publications by faculty members.
Now, instead of just predicting what magazines won’t be, I want to take a step further to predict what they will be.
And what I see is a fuller embrace of coffee-table storytelling: storytelling that is robust enough — and beautiful enough — to earn a place on the coffee table.
That might mean packaging stories in unique ways, rather than just traditional narrative storytelling. It might mean investing in stronger photography or experimenting with illustration. It might mean taking a “big swing” on one of those must-do stories like an anniversary, a major profile on a star alum or faculty member.
It might mean experimenting in other ways to inspire more reader engagement or to pursue — finally — that idea you’ve had in the back of your mind for years.
If not now, when?
Guys, this is it: your year to be bold. This is the year to find ways to make your print magazine — your flagship communications tool for alumni — live up to its enormous potential.