Industry Magazines are Pivoting on a Dime… and Gaining Audience Share in the Process

In every industry, experts are trying to make their best guesses as to what’s next and how to meet it head-on. The impact of this pandemic on our industry, explains Greg Dool in Folio:, may take years to fully assess.

“Absent the luxury of planning years, months or even weeks into the future,” Dool writes, “publishers of all sizes have been forced to make important decisions quickly to adapt to the moment and remain valuable to their readers, especially those whose magazines serve professionals in explicitly defined industries, many of which are facing unprecedented disruptions of their own.”

The meeting and events industry is one such example … and industry association MPI is using the current situation to engage a dramatically larger audience.

As Rich Luna, editor-in-chief of MPI’s publication The Meeting Professional notes, they made the decision to temporarily stop printing the magazine … even though their membership reports print is their preferred way to read it.

The problem, Luna explains, is purely logistics: Most members were getting the publication sent to their offices. So in the spirit of “be helpful,” they took a fast pivot.

“But with lower production costs,” Luna continues, “The Meeting Professional was also able to distribute the digital edition not just to MPI members, but to anyone who has signed up for a webinar or an online course or attended an MPI conference in the past, doubling its distribution from 50,000 in print to 100,000 for the digital edition.”

In this way they are reaching beyond their current membership, but still directly in their target audience, using the publication to share industry news and analyze the impacts of the pandemic as it relates to events and meetings.

The feedback has been positive, Luna notes.

“What we’re hearing from members is that we can’t give them enough information right now, as long as it’s relevant and insightful and well reported,” he adds. “I’m an old newspaper guy. I believe in the value of print. We feel the magazine is a good quality product and a great member benefit, so it was letting a piece of us go in some ways. But what we’ve learned is that engagement is changing in terms of how people consume news and information. We provide it to our readers when they want it and how they want it, and clearly right now the digital platforms are what are getting a lot of attention.”

In a similar vein, Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN) has seen their traffic surge, with most of the bump coming from non-ACS members looking for news they can trust.

“It was a pretty easy decision, in my mind,” C&EN’s Bibiana Campos-Seijo says of the move to place COVID-19 coverage outside the publication’s metered paywall. “In a way, our members are sponsoring this service to the public. I think that’s totally appropriate.”

Appropriate… even if a bit unsettling to be giving away your premium product when ad revenues are down. So C&EN has added a donation page asking readers to contribute to support non-profit science journalism. And they are taking all that new traffic and funneling it toward newsletter registrations, which are up by 10,000 names to date.

At the intersection of science and events lies the journal Endocrine News, a monthly title from the Endocrine Society. When their annual event canceled suddenly in March, the April issue was left without the bulk of its planned content.

“We have 18,000 members, a mix of physicians and scientists, so we had to find stuff that would appeal to both of those constituencies,” says Editor Mark Newman.

Their small editorial team (Endocrine News has just two full-time editors on staff, plus three freelance contributors) reached out to individual members to see how COVID-19 was changing their jobs and their lives. The team also did a fast pivot to plan ENDO online 2020, a two-week online summit, from which they distilled a print feature.

“For someone who comes from a newspaper background, it was kind of invigorating,” Newman says.

“We want to create content that really serves our membership, and our membership serves the public. So it’s been really gratifying to do this because you really see your work hopefully making a difference.”

Making a difference is what publishing is all about … tapping into what our audience needs in real time, not in the long-term view of our customer personas and audience analysis, but in talking to real readers and figuring out the gap you can fill with the news you provide.

Dool’s entire article is well worth the read, to help inspire us all to think of new ways to help. When we can take this approach, we adapt in real-time. That is what makes a publication increasingly valuable, which converts into new revenue opportunities when the time comes. Publishers are not taking this pandemic lying down… and their audiences are grateful for that.