Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Death of Encyclopedia Britannica (print version): 3 lessons for associations

Headline of the Week (after the new iPAD announcement!):
After 244 Years, Encyclopedia Britannica Stops the Presses
Last week (3/13), Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) announced it was dropping the printed version of this historical publication. “The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds. In recent years, print reference books have been almost completely overtaken by the Internet and its vast spread of resources, including specialized Web sites and the hugely popular — and free — online encyclopedia Wikipedia.”

Last September, the Wall Street Journal wrote: Encyclopedia Britannica Now Fits Into an App
“The Britannica, however, isn't going away, or ignoring the digital world. It has long had a paid website. When it comes to school research, it is often trusted by many teachers and parents over less rigorously vetted sources. And now, it is about to launch a slick iPad app containing its entire content at a greatly reduced price: $2 a month, or $24 a year, versus $70 a year for the Web version and about $1,400 for the venerable print version. (People who pay for the Web version also get access to the iPad app at no extra cost.)”

Perhaps we should not have been surprised that EB dropped its print version. The news, however, is making a lot of people think there is no Encyclopedia Britannica. And, that will be their marketing challenge.

Even though it was the first encyclopedia on the internet Encyclopedia Britannica still couldn’t win out in “battle” with Wikipedia.

Why: Wiki is FREE and crowd-sourced. Britannica is expensive (printed versions were $1,395, online version is $70 a year) and is created by paid experts.

What does this mean to association management professionals?

  1. Recognize you have competitors for your members time and funds.  Reading between the lines, the folks at Britannica didn’t see Wikipedia as a competitor. After all, Britannica was professional and accurate while Wikipedia was volunteer driven and filled with errors. Britannica got it wrong. And, lost a lot of audience (members) because of it. As association management professionals, we need to realize that our associations are competing for the time and money of our members and prospects. Forget that and you too may be out of business.
  2. Clearly, just being on the internet is NOT enough. Just being on the net (with a website) doesn’t cut it. Your association’s website needs to be mobile friendly and updated daily. Have you looked at your website lately? I can’t believe how many I see that have “news” pages with “news” that is two or three years old.
  3. Engage your community.  Digital media platforms provide new tools to connect with your members and prospects. The more engaged, the more connected they become to your association. Invite them to share photos (related to your profession or industry). Ask them to comment on your blogs. Encourage them to “spread the word” via Tweets, Retweets, Facebook likes, pins on Pinterest and more. Give them an opportunity to comment and/or vote on important association policies. 
  4. The Freemium model is beating the paid model.  The freemium model involves providing benefits/services/content FREE to large numbers of members and prospects and charging a fee (formally called dues) to a smaller portion of the “membership” (5% to 10%) for “premium” benefits/services/content. If not already pursued, your competitors will soon be offering freemium services and pricing to your community.
The “freemium model” isn’t really new. “Controlled circulation magazines” have used the model for years. Such publications are free to qualified readers. This generates large audiences which leads to more advertising revenue. Years ago, I was part of the Soybean Digest (then a publication of the American Soybean Association). When we moved the magazine from a member-only publication (with about 20,000 readers) to a controlled circulation magazine (with about 200,000 readers), revenues jumped from about $185,000 a year to more than $3 million a year.

What is your take on the Encyclopedia Britannica changes? What signals does this send to your organization and/or its board? What changes have you made?

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