Going electronic

April 12, 2010
Attending industry functions or meeting readers in their offices these days, Oil & Gas Journal editors hear the same question with increasing frequency: "Say, when are you guys gonna go electronic?"

Attending industry functions or meeting readers in their offices these days, Oil & Gas Journal editors hear the same question with increasing frequency: "Say, when are you guys gonna go electronic?"

OGJ has been publishing weekly magazines since 1910. So, the question's tone is often a bit ironic and accompanied by a sly grin, as if "going electronic" is the next step toward publishing extinction.

Rumors of the imminent and untimely demise of print journalism may or may not be premature…but they persist nonetheless. And introduction in recent days of Apple's amazing iPad with all its possibilities for reading nearly anything anywhere may appear to have sharpened the issue.

Print dinosaurs, beware! The beat of marching electrons grows ever-louder.

Truth be told, however, most formerly all-print publications have long since introduced electronic delivery in some form and to some extent. In fact, OGJ has been "going electronic" for quite a while and well ahead of its competitors.

Current trends; OGJ history

But suspicion is reasonable and based on two widely noted trends in today's headlines—both electronic and print ones:

• On the one hand is the continuing slide in circulation and revenue among newspapers, large and small, major city and country hamlet. Printing costs have exploded; personnel costs have gone up. Even before the Great Recession of 2008-09, circulation rates had hit a ceiling for most newspapers; advertising rates were anemic and stagnant.

Print advertising space has faced increasingly diverse competition since at least the early 1980s and still must compete with many other avenues of exposure, few as static and two-dimensional as a print ad.

• Then there's the trend—unpleasant for many of us—of fewer people turning to print (newspapers or news magazines) for information.

Television was first to make such inroads into reader appeal. For the last few years, it's been the internet—that unfiltered sewer of fact, fiction, fantasy, and fanaticism—that has taken the lead.

Print journalism done properly must deal in details and context; the process of absorbing them takes effort and time. And besides: Details and context disturb neat prejudices and assumptions in minds too lazy or fearful to bother with critical thought.

Questioning and analysis are activities fraught with uncertainties.

But, I digress.

My own immediate response to questions about OGJ's future modes of delivery is to remind the questioner that OGJ "went electronic" some years ago.

In the early 1990s, an OGJ marketing team devised the Journal Electronic Transfer (JET) system. This was based on the platform of an electronic bulletin board, the internet's predecessor, and sought to bring advertisers and readers together.

So innovative and ahead of its competition was the effort that the magazine-trade publication Folio recognized OGJ on its May 1, 1994, cover. That was electronic.

By the late 1990s, JET had morphed into OGJ's first web site—OGJ Online, again well ahead of competing magazines. It too was recognized, in 1999 by the American Business Press with a Jesse H. Neal Certificate of Merit. That's electronic.

In recent years, OGJ's fully paid circulation reflects a mix of traditional print (about 25%) and more recent electronic-only (about 75%) delivery. That's electronic.

Today, users can search issues of OGJ back to 1990 via www.ogjonline.com. That's electronic.

And in mid 2009, OGJ expanded its stable of electronic newsletters from its popular Daily Update and Weekly E&D reports to include four monthly e-newsletters focusing on drilling and production, transportation, LNG and natural gas, and refining.

Now, that's electronic.

OGJ's future

But the question that started all this is really one about the future.

In a universe crowded with media offering all kinds of information delivered in many ways, how does any publication worth the name survive? That means, how does it maintain high editorial standards and still attract enough business to support those standards?

My quick sketch of OGJ's so far brief sojourn into electronic delivery—brief, that is, for a publication that turns 108 years old next month—provides some answers.

Whatever the delivery mode, whatever the market pressures, OGJ's editorial principles have not wavered and in the process continue to command readers' respect: Factual, contextual, and complete reporting delivered in many modes to a well-understood readership of well-educated and technically sophisticated industry readers.

Now, that's publishing.

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