Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Handiham World for 7 January 2009

Welcome to Handiham World!

Taking stock of where we are with amateur radio publications might be in order, since January is the last month a print edition of Worldradio Magazine is published. Publications have come and gone over the years, but Worldradio's situation is different - it will be published online with free access to content that is supported by advertising. Once upon a time, ham radio magazines just bit the dust - many of us remember 73 and Ham Radio, both of which were popular, strong publications in the mid-1970's. They both eventually stopped printing, and there was no Internet publication, so that was that.

So what exactly is a ham radio publication these days? I'd have to say that it can include electronic magazines, or so-called "e-zines". In fact, your weekly Handiham World is an e-zine as well as an audio podcast. That's a definite improvement over the old print Handiham World, which used to be published only four times a year. But what about ham radio websites that contain news content? Do they qualify as "publications"? ARRL, eHam, Amateur Radio NEWSLINE, This Week in Amateur Radio, The RAIN Report, and QRZ all have news items, but there are lots of sites run by hobbyists, too. Do we include them? And if we do, what kind of journalistic standards should we expect? Does there need to be an editor to keep things civil when disagreements arise? Does someone need to enforce standards of grammar and spelling? Who does fact-checking for accuracy?

This isn't only a question in the world of ham radio, either. Traditional media publications are struggling with the very same questions. Atlantic Monthly, which has been around since 1857, still publishes a print edition but has a free content website. How will newspapers and magazines pay the bills in the new electronic order? Will we see more and more ham radio publications head for that big printing press in the sky called the Internet? I think so, but when? And what are the advantages and disadvantages?

From the standpoint of a business manager, the biggest concern is revenue. How will the publication pay for staff, materials, utilities, and office space? Even if a print publication maintains a readership of print subscribers, what's to keep everyone else from just getting the information for free from the magazine's website? And if the website is the main portal for the magazine's readers, will advertising on the web support all the expense of staff and offices? There will be savings in printing and mailing costs, though, and these are significant.

From the reader's standpoint, the whole Internet publication thing is the best deal since sliced bread. You don't have to wait for a print magazine to arrive in the mail. If you are blind, you can read the web version with your screenreader. You don't collect a pile of old magazines in the basement. There is less waste, and the Internet is definitely a "greener" alternative. And how can you argue with the price? Free, versus a hefty subscription fee.

Believe me, this issue is not going to go away. Every ham radio organization is going to face the problem of how to keep a viable business model as print publications fade slowly from the scene. A few publications, like Consumer Reports, charge a fee for online content, but most publications that have tried to do so have not been successful. We want to keep our ham radio publications financially sound, and membership organizations like ARRL healthy and viable.

The best advice I can offer right now is to keep your membership up to date and support the advertisers - whether on the web or in the print magazine.

For Handiham World, I'm Patrick Tice,