Converting a Society Newsletter from Print to Digital

A newsletter reader asked, “How can I encourage people to sign up for electronic delivery of our quarterly newsletter? I am sending out 15 by email and 405 by US Postal Service. Any savings we can spend on other worthwhile activities.”

My suggestion is simple and I know it has been effective for others. First, you need to determine how much it costs to print and mail the printed newsletter. Calculate the printing costs, the postage, the cost of envelopes (if used), and any labor charges incurred.

Next, send an announcement to all members that they now have an option: each member can now receive the newsletter at no additional charge if they accept it electronically. That means by email or on the society’s web site or both. Those who wish to continue with the printed version can do so but at an additional charge that is equivalent to the actual cost to the society for printing and mailing.

For instance, a quarterly newsletter that isn’t too thick will cost perhaps $2.00/year for postage. Printing might be another $1.00/year. There may or may not be additional charges. In this case, it seems fair that those who insist on printed newsletters should pay an additional $3.00/year.

Those who will accept the newsletter electronically continue at the old rate.

Substitute your own numbers in place of the above example.

The simple method of doing this is to create a PDF version of the printed newsletter. If you have a Macintosh system, the PDF software is already included when you purchased the computer. If you use Windows, you can obtain FREE PDF software from a number of sources. The expense to the club for additional software is zero and the amount of time required to create the PDF version can be measured in seconds. You can then send the PDF newsletter by email or upload it to the society’s web site or do both.

Will you receive some complaints? Probably. However, I suspect the number of complaints will be small. After all, you are offering a choice of delivery options and both are priced according to the actual expense to the society.

As my correspondent stated, “Any savings we can spend on other worthwhile activities.”

16 Comments

PDF format is a quick “down and dirty” way of beginning the transition to electronic newsletters. A suggestion for a future article would be using a service like Mailchimp or Constant Contact to deliver newsletters electronically. Emailing PDF’s opens up a lot of issues like file size, spam filters, CAN SPAM compliance, email list management, readability on mobile devices, etc. Another advantage is that you can increase the frequency of “touch” to monthly without breaking the bank. Mailchimp allows up to 2,000 subscribers on their free account. This will fill the needs of many societies without additional expense. By opening the newsletters up to the public, additional interest and revenue may be generated through membership or sales.

As you said, for an additional fee someone can print the email and put it in an envelope for those who insist on paper.

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Another advantage, you can do color pictures.

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Many societies we belong to offer a reduction in membership fee with the change to electronic journals – they are sharing the savings and by doing this, they are saving, we save and on top of it all – more new members! Win-win-win!

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Windows 10 has built-in ability to print to PDF. I am led to believe that it is “Off” by default but is easy to turn on via Settings >> Printers & Scanners. It then shows up in printer choices as “Microsoft Print to PDF”

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Our family association changed to electronic delivery of our newsletter about 8 years ago. We just decided to send the e-copy to everyone we had an e-mail address for with an explanation that they would be receiving the e-copy in order that we save money and maintain our membership fees at a lower rate. We received few complaints and those that did complain were from libraries and other institutions that maintained publicly accessible collection. We now send electronic copies of our newsletter to over 75% of our membership.

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When I became president of our local genealogical society, I simply began our bi-monthly newsletter with an electronic version, so there really was no opposition, because members had nothing to begin with. A few years ago, the group voted to charge $5 per year for hard copy, and there were no negative votes. In addition to the advantages mentioned by others here, add that I can “hot link” emails, various websites, articles, and other items of interest. Those without emails or without computers are out of luck though, which is why most of the newsletter is “news” rather than links.

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On the “con” side, volunteer-led organizations should keep in mind that a method for archiving electronic newsletter issues should be clearly established BEFORE you offer this option. When you rely upon constantly changing group officers and volunteers to produce a newsletter, their computer skills may vary widely. In the rush to meet deadlines, a system for saving copies should have ironclad rules.

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Dick, our society went through this transition 2 years ago. Our thought process was very much as you detailed in your post. Thanks for sharing.

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One must remember that many elderly senior citizens do not have computer knowledge like the younger people do. I, personally, do not think it is fair to charge them an additional fee. With my family newsletter, I offer both electronic and Smail versions. I request donations to help defray printing and postage costs – some do and some do not. With my society, we offer both at no additional charge.

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    Rollie Littlewood March 3, 2017 at 11:10 pm

    Somebody has to pay for the printing and mailing costs. I don’t look at the suggested setup as charging extra to receive printed/mailed copies; I look at it as giving a discount for forgoing the printed version. It’s all a way to give to most service for the smallest dues. I consider it very fair.

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1) In Word, there is an option to “save as PDF” in the file types in the “save as” menu.
2) As a librarian for a repository which receives the exchange copies of newsletters/journals from both a local historical society and the local genealogical society chapter, a print copy is particularly helpful (and please pick a logical time such as a new volume number or calendar year to change formats – whether to electronic or a different printed page size). Many libraries like mine bind volumes and when there are format changes, numbering changes, frequency changes, etc. it can mean a cataloging and binding nightmare. The whole purpose of producing the journal is to communicate information. Please make it easy for the library to help you promote and archive your newsletter/journal.
3) Also, please consider asking the library how to direct the newsletter (particularly if you are sending it electronically – right now we are not receiving any of the email only exchanges because our chapter’s president is not forwarding them to me as the archivist…). Often the mailing address is to someone in a technical services department, not the genealogy service desk.
4) Libraries need to be billed if they are to pay for a journal subscription. Don’t expect the person at the library who is in charge of ordering (who may or may not even see the actual document) to find the note in the insert of the newsletter/journal. Send a printed or emailed notice stating the renewal date and cost. Don’t send a letter saying “look at the insert in your last journal to find the form.” Our copies of the last years worth of journals were already at the bindery with the inserts removed by the time that letter arrived.
5) Libraries are your partner, not your competition. Keep up the good work.

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I don’t know about this statement regarding elderly people not being able to figure out computers. In our genealogical society, it’s the members in their 70s and 80s who have the best computer skills. As to the digital newsletters, we started to charge a $10 per year surcharge for mailed copies and that did the trick right away. Now we have scanned all of our old newsletters going back to when our society started and have posted them to our website. We recycled all of our paper copies. Our goal is to scan in all of our paper and pictures that are sitting around in files cluttering up our board members’ garages.

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Our genealogy society decided to go to electronically delivered PDF newsletters in order to save money to buy genealogy books for the local library’s genealogy collection. We made it a policy that if a member had an e-mail address, that’s how it would be delivered. (This was approved and voted by the membership.) Some of our older members do not have computers. If they were a Life Member before the transition (probably about 5 years ago), their paper copies have continued to be provided for free as a part of their life memberships. If they didn’t have an e-mail address and were a year-to-year member, they can pay $5 a year for paper copies to be mailed to them. We also send paper copies to three libraries that have asked to archive them. Some libraries, including the Allen County Public Library, have requested PDF versions. We give PDF copies to the Family History Library a year after publication. We taught members how to print out their copies if they wanted a paper copy, either on their own printer or by taking the file to a quick-print shop on a thumb drive.We had strong support for this, and little complaint. A few people who have e-mail addresses have requested to buy a paper copy subscription, but we don’t allow that — it’s not a place we want to go. We currently have about 9 members (out of about 170) who get paper copies because they don’t have computers.

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Also, we have all our newsletters for 35 years either PDF or scanned to PDF available to members on our webpage.

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Our genealogy group pointed out the advantage of an almost instant search capability with PDF versions. If your ancestor was mentioned in a newsletter but you don’t remember which issue or page it was in, having it on PDF makes it much easier to find. There’s also the issue of storage space as long as backups are kept. Some still prefer paper newsletters but the majority are PDF.

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As the computer geek in our society, the Central Florida Genealogical Society, when I joined the Board I started pushing for electronic delivery for our two publication: a monthly newsletter and a quarterly journal. I met with quite a bit of resistance but once the costs of producing and mailing these was studied, sanity prevailed. We now send out everything using MailChimp. Those members that still need or want a paper copy can still get them for a minimal annual charge.
The newsletter is prepared in MailChimp and a PDF version is also created. A full text copy is sent via MailChimp and the PDF copy goes into a member’s only directory where it can be downloaded and printed if needed. The newsletter goes to members only.
Our quarterly journal is prepared using a word processor and then saved to PDF. The PDF copy is placed online also in a member’s only directory. In MailChimp we only include the (reduced size) cover page, the table of contents for the journal and a link to the PDF copy. Again, this is only sent to members however, several libraries get either the PDF or paper copy.
We also created a Weekly New Flash to reach non-members and to promote our many meetings. This contains only information on events scheduled for the next week and several references to online articles to drive people to our website, cfgs.org. Like the monthly newsletter, we do this in MailChimp. It is sent to all members plus a list of non-members opted to receive it.
One other thing we did was to collect all past copies of our journal and scan them into PDF. Almost all were good enough quality that OCR (optical character recognition) worked well. Thus, we now have a complete set of journals going back to 1970. All of them are printable and most of the contents are searchable.
One final note, each of the above three publications are produced by a different volunteer (and, as the webmaster, I am not one of them).

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