Pondering a Digital Future

By Mark A. Taylor

“Misery loves company,” the old saying goes. And, while attendees at the annual Evangelical Press Association conference, May 1-3 in Nashville, seemed to relish each other’s company, their mood was everything but misery.

This group of magazine editors, writers, marketers, and designers clearly enjoyed the chance to talk shop together. Workshop sessions covered most aspects of Christian journalism—everything from interviewing skills to photography techniques. The digital revolution was in the background of many conversations. And, while most of these editors are extending an online presence, all are working as if print isn’t going away anytime soon.

Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer leads their ranks. The vice president of research and ministry development for LifeWay Christian Resources believes “the digital future seems uncertain. Many publishers rushed in, but now they are pulling back.”

He shared LifeWay’s success with a major new curriculum line for adults. While adoption of the print products far exceeded LifeWay’s expectations, the company “vastly overestimated usage” of the correlated digital tools (even though, by Stetzer’s estimate, they are “amazing”).

“No one really knows how big a deal digital will be,” he admitted. “The digital future seems to have a huge print component.”

Leanna Summers, editor-in-chief of Compassion Magazine, the journal of Compassion International with 750,000 readers, described how and explained why her magazine is creating a digital edition. Compassion Magazine is distributed free to the ministry’s supporters. As that base continues to grow—along with the rising costs of printing, paper, and postage—the ministry seeks a less expensive way to reach constituents. They hope to reduce those costs by converting readers to the digital edition.

But get this: their research shows only 7 percent of their supporters will choose digital over print. They’re hoping to save more than the cost of a new full-time digital designer and associated expenses simply by printing and mailing fewer magazines. Their goal is cutting costs, not increasing revenue. But such an adoption rate would never justify the digital conversion of a for-profit magazine, especially one with a fraction of Compassion’s circulation.

Nevertheless, with more than 89,000 followers on Twitter, Stetzer isn’t turning his back on the opportunity to communicate via the Internet.

“If you can consistently bring help to people around things they value, you will find an audience,” he said. “Content is king. . . . Think less cool and more content.”

That’s good advice for the hundreds of preachers I know writing blogs and posting tweets. And he noted that the most-followed tweeters tweet 12 times a day.  If the thought of adding such a regimen to your daily duties sounds miserable, you’re not alone. Ed Stetzer, at least, would love your company.

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