Printed Prospectuses vs Digital Prospectuses

Jeanette Lloyd-Stern

mlsMEDIA have been leading the digital marketing revolution for the schools sector for more than a decade. They produced the first ever school promotional DVD and the first school web site with video streaming. Now they’ve produced the first ever interactive digital Prospectus for an independent school. They have worked with over one hundred schools to combine best marketing practises with proven marketing communication tools to increase pupil numbers and decrease the school’s communication costs.

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The debate may be new to the school marketing world but not so in the world of business to business or consumer magazines. Think of any big UK brand and you will find that they are now producing a digital magazine. Think British Airways, BT, Tesco’s, Waitrose, M&S, Virgin, Cadbury’s, Boden to name a few. And then of course the traditional magazines themselves are creating a digital magazine, think Homes & Garden, Marketing Week, even “Dairy Farmer” has a digital edition! So just why has the digital magazine arrived and why is it becoming so popular?

Firstly, faster internet speeds are now the norm at home and in the office making so many more things possible. We, as a society, now spend more time on the Internet than reading magazines or watching TV. Secondly the birth of eReaders such as Amazon’s Kindle and the iPad make reading on the move a light weight, slip in my handbag / briefcase, must have. And, while you may be in the “I prefer reading printed versions of books, etc.” camp, many people find reading on screen far easier as they can make the text any size they want.

So, what are digital magazines – after all they’re not websites and they’re not print. Is it a lazy way to get online without investing in a really good website? You may have been led to think so by the proliferation of PDF / Flash, whatever replicas of print, where you take your prospectus and simply turn it into a page-turning edition. Some simply convert their prospectus into a PDF file, which loads at a snail's pace, even on the fastest computers. Others convert their printed prospectus into page-turning online magazines using Flash based software - simple and low cost and many schools have them. However, many of these printed online replicas are clunky to use, slow to load and have type so small that you have to constantly zoom in and out. Not to mention the photograph quality is often blurry. So the PDF or simple page-turning printed equivalents have major shortcomings – although on the upside they are still more environmentally friendly and lower on cost than printed prospectuses.

So, what’s a REAL digital magazine you ask yourself? Well, firstly they are formatted to easily be read on a computer screen. Secondly, the good digital magazines – not all - offer outstanding visual quality and, thirdly, they make clever use of interactivity within the content to bring your school to life with video, audio and animation. The best digital magazines for readers are the ones created as digital magazines specifically rather than taking the printed prospectus and converting it into a page-turning magazine. The prospectuses created as true digital prospectuses also offer clickable tables of contents, clickable links such as “Contact the Registrar” and forward to a friend and reader statistics which no printed prospectus, PDF or simple page-turning printed prospectus replica can ever achieve.

So, now you know the difference in digital magazines, PDF and page-turning printed prospectuses. But why have an online prospectus or school magazine when you have a website? Well, the two have different functions. The website is designed to be highly navigable and offer information in brief, easily digestible pieces. Some school websites boast of having over 500 pages for the viewer to look at and you have no control in what order the prospective viewer sees the information. For example, they may decide to go from the home page, to the admissions page, to the junior school news page, to the fees page in 3 jumps. They may miss the page that lists your best features. Websites are fantastic information repositories for parents, prospective families, alumni and the school community where all the info, the small print, the bullying policies and the news about the school are held. But, your prospective families don’t always want infinite and constantly changing, and they don’t always have the time or desire to explore your 500 pages. The digital prospectus, however, takes your readers by the hand and takes them through the best features and benefits at your school in a linear fashion in exactly the way you want them to see your school. So, readers enjoy the same familiar experience as thumbing through a print magazine, dwelling over stories, following the flow of the magazine's layout and looking at quality pictures. Except the digital Magazine can be viewed immediately by Mum and then forwarded on to Dad in the office at the click of a mouse.

But ,here is the sweet spot for digital magazines. Unlike print, true digital magazines provide a rich, immerse environment with video, animation and interactive features that provide much more depth. Rather than being the worst of both worlds—neither a good website, nor a good print publication—digital magazines can and should be the best of both worlds. They can be fantastic publications that provide a defined, engaging experience for readers, and a much cheaper, and much more environmentally friendly message by the schools themselves. After all, what message does a school give when they send out hundreds of printed Prospectuses but then put tag lines like “Please consider the environment before printing this mail” at the end of every email?

So what do readers of digital magazines think? In surveys taken over the last two years from over 30,000 digital magazine readers worldwide, * their big reasons for loving digital magazines, in order of importance are as follows:

1.    More environmentally friendly than printed magazines (allows your school to really walk the talk and gain PR mileage). 

2.    Easy to save (download it onto your computer so that you can view it offline if you want.)

3.    Ability to search (particularly useful for large yearly School Magazines)

4.    More convenient than print (no more Prospectus piles in the lounge).

5.    More timely than print (allows viewers to read it the moment they are researching different schools)

6.    Easy to forward (onto Mum, Dad, child, Grandma, etc.)

7.    More convenient to read on my computer (remember more time is spent on the internet now than anything else.)

And, nearly 70% of readers value video content as a valuable and positive impact on their overall impression of subjects discussed within the digital magazine.

So, readers who read digital magazines love them. As a school, you will make huge savings on print and postage. Perhaps the best thing of all is that unlike the printed prospectus you can analyse the readership statistics over every page to see what works and what does not. So that next year, without worrying about the cost of reprinting, you can decide to redo page 3 or 4 or 5 with very little headache at all.

In conclusion, digital magazines are not traditional - they won’t sit on the coffee table along with all the other prospectuses - but they will make a more lasting impression with your prospective family, on their computer where they spend most of their time. And, digital magazines do meet the requirements of how today’s changed society researches and make their decisions.

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