Why This Magazine is Free and We’re OK With It

Subscription models are changing. Here’s why FORUM’s team has kept this content unlocked.

By Kim Kelly, CAE

FORUM Magazine

Association Forum has always been the home of learning by serving as an “open case study” and learning lab within the Chicagoland association community. In that spirit, we wanted to pull back the curtain on FORUM Magazine and offer insight into some of the recent changes we’ve made to spark innovation within your own publications.

This month marks one year since we made some pretty big changes around here. FORUM Magazine used to be printed six times a year, but in 2021 we went to the digital-first strategy you enjoy today. Since the switch, we’ve posted fresh content on this website weekly. We print one issue that’s distributed at Holiday Showcase, but everything else is online only.

We made these changes to keep the content fresh, relevant, and engaging while evolving how we deliver it to our members. Many factors led up to these changes–factors that are all too familiar to association professionals. Meeting our members where they are (online, that is), cost, and timeliness were all part of this decision. 

There’s one more layer: this site is free and open to all. Now, anyone can visit FORUMmagazine.org and read original content created just for association professionals. Why have we left this site free and open? Read on.

A bit of altruism

All associations operate from a bit of an altruistic perspective within their industries. If we lift up our industry as a whole, we all benefit. No association can claim to only help members. There are so many association efforts that benefit industries as a whole, whether or not professionals hold active memberships. 

Association Forum’s mission is to serve the association industry. Publishing quality content that’s accessible to all is a natural way to do this. We want aspiring association professionals, students, and career changers to read our articles. We feel this can only strengthen the community we serve.

A bit of marketing

Yep, we believe in content marketing. Some marketing gets a bad rap, and for good reason. It sometimes feels like retailers are following us around on the internet, aggressively pushing those shoes we left in our cart a few days ago. But content marketing is different. In this case, we’re giving you something (knowledge!) for free. 

We give away the content for free, but in return we’re regarded as thought leaders and we earn the respect of the community. It’s a solid way to establish a brand.

It’s the modern thing to do

Few sites lock down all content these days. There is a modern expectation of being open and free online. For more than 100 years, Association Forum has evolved with the times–this change is no different. 

FORUM leads to bigger things

Association Forum offers members a plethora of benefits. Opening the magazine to non-members didn’t reduce any of the advantages of joining. Members still have access to our online community where they can post questions, share knowledge, and sound off about articles read here, all with other association professionals. Shared Interest Groups (SIGs), volunteer opportunities, and special pricing on top-notch education (both online and in-person) are other strong drivers of membership. We were confident enough in our member value proposition that we didn’t feel this change would have an effect.

$$$ Monetization

If readers don’t have to pay for your content, you’ll likely get more eyes on it. Once you’ve established a thriving platform, you can monetize it with advertising dollars. We sell banner ads and sponsored articles (new!) on this magazine. Our advertisers made it possible to print FORUM for decades, so of course we’ve included them here as well. While the model is a bit different, we are delighted to give them yet another way to extend their reach within the community. If you’re interested in advertising on FORUM, take a look at our media kit

Do you think an open publication could be right for your organization?

This move won’t be right for every association. Peer reviewed journals come to mind when I think of publications that may want to stay behind a member wall. But, if you are looking to build a larger audience, extend your reach within your community, keep up with the times, and bring in some online advertising dollars, you may want to consider dropping your paywall. 

We’d love to keep this conversation going! If your organization has recently grappled with this decision and you’d like to discuss it, shoot me an email at Kelly@AssociationForum.org.

About the Author

Kim Kelly is Association Forum's Editorial Consultant. She has more than 13 year's experience in association management and owns Kim Kelly Consulting.

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