Reality bytes: OU goes online

By Phil Bloom
OWAA President

If the Outdoors Unlimited edition you are looking at is the traditional print version, do yourself a favor.
Secure it in one hand and thumb quickly through the pages. Go front to back or back to front. Repeat the process a couple of times for good measure.
Now grip the bound edge and open edge of the magazine in each hand and wiggle the thing back and forth. Roll it up and slap it in your open palm. Now stick it in your face and sniff. Can you smell the ink?
By now you’re probably wondering, “Is Bloom nuts?”
Actually, I want you to touch, see, feel and maybe even smell this issue of OU because it is the last one you will receive in this form.
Outdoors Unlimited is going electronic.
That really shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise to anyone who has been reading the tea leaves of the modern communications marketplace. As mentioned in a previous column, newspapers are struggling. Some publications (Christian Science Monitor, PC magazine, The Capital Times in Madison, Wis.) have already switched to online-only products or soon will. There are reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will go that route if a suitable buyer doesn’t step forward soon.
As technology and demographics drive change, more and more publications, including OU, will follow someday.
In our case, later has come sooner for a combination of reasons.
One factor is financial. The cost for printing 11 issues of OU is $17,000, plus another $8,500 in mail services to deliver it.
But it’s not just about dollars. Instead, it makes sense to embrace the ability to tell stories in three dimensions rather than one.
In his written report for the January Board of Directors meeting in Indianapolis, OWAA executive director Kevin Rhoades expressed interest in transforming OU to a digital format to take advantage of “new media” possibilities.
For the past seven or eight years, savvy members have known they can tap into the OWAA Web site to get a sneak peek at the magazine before the hard copy arrives in the mailbox.
About a year ago, OWAA headquarters began e-mailing a PDF version of Outdoors Unlimited to members who requested it. Since then, about 75 members have signed up for this paperless option. At that rate, we’ll never get to where we need to be.
“We’re not satisfied with simply PDFing our usual-and-customary hard copy OU,” Kevin wrote in a separate e-mail to board members. “The PDF version is too static, not dynamic enough for today’s world.”
Kevin shared with the Board of Directors a sample of an electronic OU as developed by Paul Queneau, noting that this “can become the interactive OU that many of our members have been waiting for. The infrastructure allows for video, audio, and begs member interaction.”
Imagine logging on to the electronic OU to check member postings, or to include your own personal photo gallery. Virtual auctions and online mini-conferences will become real possibilities, as will the option to provide immediate feedback at the end of each article.
Another feature is with the Outdoor Market, where direct e-mail links to the editor can be provided. No longer will you have to put down the hard copy OU, go to your computer, turn it on, rev up the e-mail account, and pound out a query. In today’s fast-paced marketplace, this eliminates a couple of steps, which may make the difference in landing the assignment.
There are plenty of other bells and whistles, and what was shown is just the beginning.
For example, a “new media” product will be more inclusive for a “silent” portion of our membership, allowing those who work in video and audio to play a more significant role in an online version of OU. It is one thing to have read the craft improvement article by Ron Schara on the lack of plot lines in TV outdoor shows (October 2008), but how much better would it have been to watch and listen as he conveyed the same message via video?
Kevin asked for a “warp speed” transition that would phase out the hard-copy OU over the next two years. The Executive Committee and the board chose to step a little harder on the accelerator.
Faced with the prospect of having to approve a deficit budget for 2009, both groups asked, “Why wait? Why not now?”
There was healthy discussion of the many pros and cons of making such a “cold turkey” move. For every point there was a counterpoint. For every concern there was anticipation of potential. Everyone had his or her say, and the final decision – by a solid margin – was to go for it as soon as possible.
Will there be adjustments? Of course. Like a lot of folks my age and older, I prefer to hold what I’m reading but recognize that’s quickly becoming a thing of the past.
Being fiscally responsible to the membership was the clinching piece of evidence the board needed to make the choice. Had we stuck with printing eight more hard copy issues of OU after this one, we would be looking at black ink in the magazine but red ink on our business ledger by the end of the year.
The decision to go electronic avoids that unwanted situation and catapults us into the present while laying a dynamic framework for conveying information well into the future. Although OU likely will continue on a monthly “publication” cycle in its “E” format, it will no longer be hamstrung by the calendar or the cost.
Breaking news could be updated in a timelier fashion, thus keeping membership better informed. Lack of space or the rising price of paper would no longer be concerns.
As our headquarters staff works at becoming more familiar with the tools needed to produce the upgraded, interactive version of OU, the magazine will continue to come your way as a PDF version for a couple more months.
Regular surveys tell us that Outdoors Unlimited is considered one of the top benefits of membership. In the near future, Kevin plans to have a sample of the electronic version available through the OWAA Web site so members can explore what is coming.
The board is convinced you will find Outdoors Unlimited, while different, even more valuable.

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