Tell me about the initial interest in creating a digital magazine. In 2012–13, there were a lot of people developing iPad-specific apps for their magazines. Several influential members of the Mac community, including some members on the Board of Trustees, thought it would be cool to have an app for Macalester Today magazine. We staffers caught the fever, too, and decided the app should have extra “assets” — photos, audio, and video. Plus, we had been spending a lot of money, perhaps $8,000 or $10,000 an issue, to send our magazine to international alumni and friends. We reasoned that if we could stop sending the magazine internationally, and encourage people to download the app, we could reduce those mailing costs.
That makes sense. But the costs to develop it weren’t zero, right? We had a freelance designer who did a separate design for the app, basically from scratch. So that doubled our design cost per issue, though even after that expense we still saved a bit on postage. And it was cool. We presented it at the CASE Editors Forum a few years ago in Minneapolis, and editors were really interested.
Tell me more. It was one of those techno-dream things. In our minds, we thought: maybe this is the direction things are going. Maybe this is how people will read magazines and books from now on. We thought that eventually we might stop printing and mailing the magazine entirely.
That’s pretty bold! Online is definitely seductive, and print is expensive. We were spending about $25,000 per issue on printing at the time, plus thousands more for postage. And those costs, of course, only continue to go up.
What was the reaction among the alumni community? We hoped that the app would be cool enough that everyone would download it and show it to folks on airplanes or to their friends. But fast forward a year, and when we looked into the numbers we found that only a few hundred people were downloading the app — out of a circulation of 32,000.
If your institution has experimented with various approaches to putting your magazine online, I’d love to hear about your successes and failures. Shoot me an email.