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Staff magazines - are you going digital?

Magazines and messages are now delivered seamlessly to desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. In our increasingly digital and connected world, what does this mean for your staff communications?

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Digital publishing has come a long way since the digitisation of the Declaration of Independence by Project Gutenberg in 1971. The 2000s saw the mass expansion of eBooks and online magazines and newspapers, but already PDF versions of print are being left behind with the advent of more advanced digital and mobile technology.

Figures on magazine consumption published by YouGov in 2015 reported 10% of the magazine-buying UK adults reading digital editions, with over 25% reading on tablets and 14% of smartphones as an alternative or in addition to print.* The “increased predilection” of those under 40 to access magazines via tablet or smartphone was also noted.

Moving forward to 2017, the UK National Readership Survey indicates 71% of the UK’s magazine-buying population aged 15+ consume magazines across print and online, also suggesting that mobile editions add a further 80% audience reach to individual magazine brand footprints.**

In 2020 analysts believe that 50% of published content is consumed online. And with global mobile device ownership reaching saturation levels, the digital option is actually less of an option today, and more of a necessity. Combine these statistics with the entry of the tech-savvy Millennials into the workplace, soon to be followed by Generation Z's digital natives, and it seems clear that the digital revolution is something that employers need to factor into communications with staff.

What's more, offering a digital version of your staff magazine provides an opportunity to enrich your readers' experience, bringing the corporate message alive in ways that just aren’t possible in the traditional print medium. Dynamic digital content, such as layovers, pop-up infographics, audio, video and links to further information, has the potential to genuinely enhance and add value to the reader’s experience – providing it’s relevant, of course.

In practice, questions remain. Is there still a place for a printed version of your staff magazine? Should you go digital only? Should you produce digital and print versions?

Weighing up the challenges

This is still a transitional time for staff magazines. Businesses who are embarking on serious staff communications for the first time may be more comfortable going digital from the off, but others must look carefully at the challenges that changing their medium might bring.

Compromising staff

Despite the digital boom, and the onset of a global pandemic that has forced people online, there are still some who just aren’t as happy online as others. This may be to do with age, confidence, accessibility, or a combination of these things. But staff magazines are very much about employee engagement, so you may not want to risk switching people off through a wholesale switch to digital.

It’s also important that everyone has equal opportunity to access and read the magazine on their desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone, at their leisure, in the same way as they would a printed edition. While mobile-friendly editions may fit with the “anytime, anywhere” ethos, screen access may remain problematic for field staff, shop workers, or those working in call centres, warehouses or factories, leaving them potentially compromised. You cannot require or expect employees to read a digital edition of the works magazine on their personal device when they get home, regardless of how compelling it may be.

Compromising journalistic integrity

In going digital, there is a danger that your staff magazine becomes all about the bells and whistles. Added richness and interactivity has the potential to offer increased value, but won’t compensate for a reduction in content quality, tone of voice, or well researched and articulated stories that matter.

Saving money

On the face of it, digital publishing may seem like a great way to reduce costs, while widening distribution at the same time. For large organisations with huge print and postage bills, this may be true, but for others there’s a trade-off: digital production could be more expensive.

Stories are stories, but when presented digitally there may be additional research and writing costs, depending on the nature of your enhanced content. Multimedia assets need to be taken into account, and alongside the usual graphic design and page layout, there will be costs associated with e-platform tooling and coding, embedding rich media, creating animations and so on. Digital publishing isn’t just about sending a PDF over the internet.


What to do?

It may well be that, in going digital, a smart mixture of old and new media is the best way forward. This can help set the expectation of a digital future, but meets the challenges outlined above. There are various options which, when considered together, approach a transition plan over a period of time for organisations with more complex staff needs.

  • Produce a print magazine and create a PDF – It’s easy to distribute as an email attachment or downloadable file on an intranet. However, this is not, strictly speaking, digital publishing.

  • Produce a print magazine and "digitise" it – More than a PDF file, but far from a dynamic digital magazine, this enables the online delivery of your magazine.

  • Produce a digital magazine AND a print version – Offers both options to employees. A predetermined “switch-off” could be built into your plan, whereby the print edition is eventually phased out – rather like analogue and digital television.

  • Produce a digital magazine and deliver key messages to the non-digital audience via other printed media, e.g. posters, mini-mags, briefs and bulletins.

Going digital with your staff magazine undoubtedly offers enormous potential in terms of interactivity, currency, flexible access, impact, and the fun and feel-good factor. However, organisations and their circumstances vary, and understanding the employee landscape is key. In this time of Covid-19 lockdown, physical print distribution and consumtion faces its own challenges. Supply chain logistics are impacted, warehousing, receiving destinations potentially closed to business. It is a complex mix and a difficult balance to find.

But ultimately, you need to be delivering the right message to the right people in the right way – whatever that way may be. For some the time is now; we are increasingly seeing pandemic-led adoption of new digital technology as a way to keep communications going in very difficult circumstances. For others, easing your staff into digital over a longer period may be more prudent, though you will need to find an effective short term answer to communicating in lockdown. Either way, digital is here to stay.


* Source: 'Signs of reslieince in the magazine market': (accessed 5 July 2017).

** Source: National Readership Survey, latest figures to March 2017: (accessed 5 July 2017).

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