publishing changed forever

“Never let a good crisis go to waste,” Winston Churchill supposedly said.

It’s valuable advice for publishers, even if Churchill didn’t actually say it (there’s no real proof). And even though this pandemic isn’t exactly a “good” crisis. (I’ve lost a friend to this “hoax” and almost lost another. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s just like the flu or that it only kills old people.)

Physical distancing and stay-at-home orders have forced publishers to do things they never thought possible. We will never unlearn the new skills and tactics we’ve had to develop. Nor will our readers.

Here are five changes the pandemic has wrought, along with ways publishers can adapt and prosper:

They love us, they really love us!

Most publishers seem to be experiencing skyrocketing web traffic and, contrary to normal recessions, rising subscription sales.

More than ever, people are turning to reliable sources of information. And they know that those trusted publishers are struggling to survive. They’re reminded of that every time they visit favorite websites and see face-mask promotions instead of premium ads.

As a result, our readers want to help us.

Some of the implications for publishers are obvious: erect paywalls, launch newsletters, create premium offerings, and even solicit donations. Readers need human connections like never before, so the ability to join invitation-only forums or social-media groups may be a valuable subscription perk.

There’s never been a better time to solicit readers for input, such as sharing experiences or advice that can be compiled into articles. Or to join a fan club that helps promote your publication. Or simply to complete questionnaires.

Reader advisory boards, perhaps open only to premium subscribers, can serve as sounding boards, critique articles, and provide story ideas. Niche and local publishers may also find advertiser advisory boards to be helpful.

You can publish without an office.

Publishers large and small have been producing magazines, newsletters, and websites the past couple of months with all their employees working in different places and on different schedules. While their offices sit vacant.

So can you stop paying rent? Or at least can you stop paying rent on the kind of space you viewed as essential three months ago, with room for every employee to work at the same time, plus additional meeting space?

With your newfound skill at operating a virtual organization, perhaps you can retain a valuable employee even though she has to move halfway across the country. Or hire someone whose family obligations require him to work outside the traditional 9-5 M-F schedule.

There will still be a role for face-to-face interactions. But it’s not for holding meetings or doing collaborative work that could be done more efficiently and just as effectively via Zoom or Google Docs.

Live events have changed permanently.

I’m not talking about physical distancing and other temporary adjustments that will eventually fade away.

The permanent change is people’s expectations, shaped by their growing comfort with Zoom meetings and online events. They will now question the wisdom of speaker-centric events, preferring the convenience of webinars.

And they’ll be subject to what John Naisbitt described nearly 40 years ago as the High Tech/High Touch factor: “The more technology around us, the more the need for human touch.”

Live event attendees will crave something that’s hard to find online – real connection with their peers. They’ll want help finding and connecting with people who have similar jobs or interests.

They’ll prefer informal sessions in small rooms where they see people’s faces rather than staring at the backs of a hundred necks while someone talks at them. Instead of speakers, the stars of the show may be presenters who can stir up small-group discussions, lead brainstorming sessions, and even create games that help attendees find wisdom from each other rather than from an expert dishing out one-size-fits-all advice.

Event organizers that get the formula right will end up with satisfied attendees and exhibitors who will happily return for future events.

You don’t have to use a nearby printer to produce your magazine.

In a recent article about the closure of a printing plant in Richmond, VA, two Richmond publishing executives moaned that they could no longer have their magazines printed locally.

What’s the problem? Most printing plants banned visitors two months ago, yet they still managed to produce plenty of magazines without having publishers looking over their shoulders.

Printing locally made sense in the days when you had to deliver camera-ready proofs to the printer and to be on hand for color checks. But sending a PDF across the country is as easy as sending it across the street, and printing-press automation now makes better color adjustments than any human can.

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by D. Eadward Tree, Publishing Executive

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