The “five-year value” of your print alumni magazine

One of my all-time favorite podcasts is Longform, which features in-depth interviews with narrative nonfiction writers.

Recently, the podcast featured Casey Cep, the author of the white-hot national bestseller about Harper Lee called The Furious Hours.

In the interview, Cep mentioned that when she was a college student she got a fellowship that allowed her to write for her alumni magazine (Harvard, natch).

The two continue to talk about alumni magazines for a moment, and then the host, Aaron Lammer, says something very interesting about his experience with his own alumni magazine:

Black text on a white background with a quote from Longform podcast host Aaron Lammer that says,  "I bought myself five years of my parents not thinking I was a failure because the Wesleyan alumni magazine mentioned Longform [podcast] once.

Yes, this was just a few fleeting moments in a much longer podcast about something totally different. Lammer wasn’t dead serious about the exact value of that alumni magazine story.

But do you see what’s going on there, directionally?

Being featured in a print magazine gave his work credibility to other people.

Lammer didn’t have to hope that the people he knew would check out his alma mater’s website. He didn’t have to self-promotionally send out a thing on Facebook or Instagram or email. The print magazine is is literally being sent to people’s homes.

You can probably imagine that his podcast’s appearance in the magazine was noted by fellow classmates. You might imagine his parents keeping a copy of that magazine on their coffee table, which they might point to when their friends were over.

I actually emailed Lammer about this after I heard it; he said the Wesleyan magazine is one of the few magazines he still gets in print. And if you listen to his work, you’ll realize reading magazines is a huge part of his job! Wesleyan’s magazine still stands out to him, in part, because it is in print. (You can read more about my many thoughts about this in my case for print alumni magazines — with real numbers.)

In today’s world, print feels fundamentally more valuable than online. It is a thing people can hold in their hands, a thing that says: “We invested real money to bring this story to you. It’s worth the paper, the staples, the printing, and the mailing.”

GUYS, THESE THINGS MATTER.

It’s why I get so furious when magazine editors talk cavalierly about ditching their print magazine’s class notes sections or putting them behind a password-protected wall on a website. I get frustrated when schools decide to cut pages or cut issues because of the cost savings, without realizing the value they’re destroying in the process.

It’s not just information that people are after. It’s the validity and credibility that print provides that makes a difference.

How many people keep a magazine around their house for months because they’re in it? How many people tear out that tiny callout you wrote about the alumni author in the class notes? How many people tuck a story about themselves from your publication into a folder that they keep for their whole lives?

For many people, their appearance in the class notes, in a tiny blurb up front, or in the authors section, may be the biggest-deal recognition they ever get for their work. And it was their alma mater that cared enough to feature them! That’s a good look for your institution.

Even tiny stories might be worth a full five years of parental pride.

Find ways to do more of that, not less.

It’s not just those starting-out stories that matter. A few years ago, I wrote a story about a billionaire (yep, billionaire with a “b”) who owns dozens and dozens of television and radio stations across the country. This guy knows media inside and out! He controls it! And when that story about him appeared in the alumni magazine, his administrative assistant emailed me about three seconds after it was published to ask if her boss could get 10 copies, pronto. (I passed the note along to the editor and suggested she charge $1 million per issue, but I think she mailed them out for free. Nobody takes my good advice.)

I don’t want to take too much credit for the fact that he later went on to give millions of dollars to the school WHICH IS NOW NAMED AFTER HIM, but you can probably imagine that the story didn’t hurt.

Your print magazine matters. Feature lots of people at all stages of their success, and in lots of ways, whether you give them 20 words or 200 words or 2,000 words.

They may never tell you that it means a lot to them. But it absolutely does.

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