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Margin Notes

The uncertain future of alumni magazines

University of Western Ontario’s Alumni Gazette celebrates 70th anniversary by cutting print issue.


I received the summer 2009 issue of the University of Western Ontario’s Alumni Gazette recently (I’m not an alumnus – it’s just one of the many magazines that regularly pass my desk).

The magazine notes that, with this issue, it celebrates its 70th anniversary. That’s quite an accomplishment. There aren’t too many Canadian magazines out there with such a long publishing history.

So how is the magazine celebrating? It is cutting the print version from three times a year to just once a year, mailed in the summer. The magazine’s editor, David Scott, in a note to readers, says the Gazette is “taking a new and greener approach to the delivery of our publication” by moving the other two issues each year exclusively online.

“The new, more environmentally friendly approach to distribution has already been requested by many of our alumni, and has become standard practice for many publications,” he says.

This edition of the magazine also includes, helpfully, an article entitled, “Does the print industry have a future?” (Verdict: who knows?)

I won’t try to second-guess the move to cut back on the print edition, as I imagine it was not an easy decision to make. The cost of printing and mailing an alumni magazine can be substantial, and with each graduating class the potential number of subscribers only grows. With the current difficult financial situation faced by most universities, the pressure to cut costs is high.

But permit me at least to lament the move. Magazines, at their best, are a magnificently engaging, beautiful and entirely portable medium. Alumni magazines, in particular, can maintain a potent connection between alumni and their former universities.

The Gazette is not entirely abandoning its print issue, that’s true, but I wonder if a once-a-year publication is sufficient to maintain that connection.

On the other hand, I do suspect that the future of alumni relations, particularly with new grads, resides on the Internet and with online social networking services.

So is this a trend? Let me know if your alumni magazine has cut back or abandoned its print edition and what you think of it. Or expound more generally on the future of print, if you’d like.

As for the print version of University Affairs – which, I’d like to point out, celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall – there is no plan to cut it anytime in the foreseeable future. In fact, we are embarking on a full redesign of the magazine which will be unveiled early next year.

If you don’t currently receive the print edition of University Affairs and are interested in doing so, click here. As long as you’re working at a member institution of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and have a university mailing address, you’re eligible for a free subscription.

Or, of course, you could just stick to reading it online here. We’re OK with that, too.

P.S.: I’m now on holiday until Aug. 17. I’ll resume blogging shortly thereafter. Cheers.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Subhadeep Chakrabarti / August 6, 2009 at 16:57

    This is definitely a step in the right direction ! I am an alumnus of University of Calgary (PhD ’06) and I regularly receive my alumni magazine in my Inbox. I read, often re-read it and then delete it. Saves space, saves money and saves the trees. It’s a no-brainer in my opinion.

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