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Association Insight: why optics society is focusing on print

Heard the one about the death of print? SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, is having none of it. In fact, it’s increasing the frequency of its members’ magazine. Gwen Weerts, managing editor of Photonics Focus, explains why…

ami So you’re increasing the frequency of your members’ magazine from quarterly to bi-monthly. Have we understood you correctly?

GW Yes and no.

ami Okay. So, explain…

GW In January we launched Photonics Focus, a new bi-monthly membership magazine to replace our quarterly title SPIE Professional.

ami Still sounds like a bold move. What triggered it?

GW SPIE Professional has been in print since 2006. It was intended to highlight entrepreneurs in the photonics industry but, over the years, the scope shifted to focus on photonics technology highlights and the events and services of the society.

ami Ah, hence the new title…

GW I learned that the title and scope of SPIE Professional were no longer aligned with what SPIE members and advertisers wanted from the magazine – it was focused too much on the society, and not enough on science and engineering. We considered a reboot of SPIE Professional to better meet our readers’ needs, but ultimately decided to start anew.

ami How did you discover what your readers really wanted?

GW I took on the management of SPIE Professional in 2018 and conducted a reader survey about the type of content they wanted from the publication. Based on their feedback, we created new recurring sections intended to address readers’ expressed desire for information about the photonics industry, recent notable publications, professional development opportunities, technology histories and updates on the society’s mission and achievements.

ami But isn’t print media being replaced by all things digital!?

GW Print media is experiencing a comeback, especially in niche publications. Photonics Focus has a beautiful and engaging print layout with striking graphics – that all gets lost when reformatted for the web. We want Photonics Focus to be the magazine our members grab before boarding a flight to a scientific conference or heading for the subway on their way to work. For now, the entire issue PDF can still be downloaded from the SPIE website for free, and most articles are also available to read online in our news section.

ami What’s your funding model?

GW Like many society membership magazines, ours is partially subsidised by revenue

from other parts of the society, including membership dues. But when we decided to go all-in with print and an increased frequency, that decision was supported by evidence that there’s room to grow our ad sales. One of the advantages of a niche publication is that our readers are familiar with the companies and products in their sphere. Advertisements aren’t background noise – they’re useful information.

Ami What’s the print run?

GW The print magazine will be distributed to the society’s nearly 20,000 members.

The full print version is included in SPIE memberships and distributed at major SPIE meetings, including Photonics West, which attracts over 23,000 attendees each year.

ami Who’s going to write it?

GW I have recruited award-winning science journalists, professional engineers, physicists and researchers to write immersive feature articles about photonics-enabled technology and offer professional development advice. Industry experts write about market changes, developments and policy shifts that are of interest to our community.

ami Anything else we should know?

GW In the near future, we plan to make the magazine available for purchase as an individual subscription to non-members.

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