The Next Big Thing In Alumni Magazines: Superfeatures

Alumni magazines aren’t really part of the “move fast and break things” culture. And that’s great! Lots of things are designed for stability and endurance. Your institution is one of those things. Your print magazine is another.

Still, it’s likely that your magazine has changed quite a bit in recent years.

Your magazine might publish less frequently than you did five years ago. It might have fewer pages.

As digital connection points between you and your community ramp up, one thing is clear: Print is no longer primary.

Instead, it’s premium.

Print, once the primary way to reach alumni several times a year, has become a high-end offering that may go to alumni just couple of times a year.

In some ways, it might make sense to try to pack MORE into every page.

But that’s the wrong way to think about it.

Yes, your issue frequency may be down. Your total page count per year may be down. But if you think strategically, your impact can be bigger than you imagine.

That’s why now’s the time to create a superfeature.

What’s a superfeature?

A “superfeature” is a feature that is AT LEAST twice as long as a typical feature in your magazine. 12 pages, 16 pages, maybe even more.

It’s a truly deep dive into a single topic.

Consumer magazines have been doing versions of this work for a long time:

These are incredible, unforgettable stories designed to be noticed. Some of these stories are many years old, but they remain meaningful and memorable.

That’s impact.

Superfeatures and alumni magazines

It’s no secret that we live in a world chopped up into 140-character tweets, single-photo posts, and AI-generated articles featuring “3 easy tips.”

So when your magazine goes big on a topic —  a true immersion into an idea with the help of  beautiful design, thousands of words, dozens of images, and nuanced ideas and arguments — people take notice.

Plant your stake in the ground and spend a dozen pages on a single, captivating subject, and you’ll earn their attention not just for the time it takes to read the story, but for days, months, even years afterward.

One of my favorite recent examples of this idea is the University of Richmond’s “101 Things We Love about the University of Richmond.”

In 26 pages (30, if you count the behind-the-scenes introduction), the magazine dives into the finer details of Spider life, from gorgeous campus locations to life-changing professors.

Perfect.

The likelihood that a reader will sit down and read all 26 pages at once? Low. But that’s fine. A reader is far more likely to read a few items, set it on their coffee table for a few days, and pick it up again when they have a spare moment.

Hopefully, they’ll consider the entire issue a keepsake, so once it’s served its purpose as a coffee-table highlight, it’ll get tucked away as a meaningful object. (If you want to do a ‘reasons to love’ story like this for your own publication, editor Matt Dewald shared what he learned during the process. Thank you, Matt!)

A superfeature can be a fun romp through your school’s favorite things, but it can also be a comprehensive look at a topic that your school has deep expertise in, a list of achievements or achievers, or a complete explainer about a place, program, or idea.

Here are a couple more examples from the alumni magazine world:

At a time in which so much of what we consume just skims the surface, these are projects that are designed to let a reader sink into them.

Superfeatures are challenging! They require prioritization, because it means you won’t have space for other types of storytelling.

But done well, they can also help you earn — and keep — that valuable coffee table space in an alum’s home.