How One Niche Publisher Is Educating & Entertaining Readers in a Coronavirus Environment
As I watched the coronavirus crisis unfold, two things became readily obvious to me as the founder of a small niche publisher – and probably to many fellow Publishing Executive readers. The first was that our revenue at AP Now would dry up overnight (Thankfully, I was mostly wrong on this one) and that it would be inappropriate to go hawking paid content and training at a time when companies were scrambling to get their employees set up at home. The second was that some of our readers were going to lose their jobs.
AP Now is focused on specialty accounting issues, and our services are largely digital. Although we’ve toyed with live events from time to time, virtually all of our revenue comes from our publications and online events. This income is derived largely from companies paying for their employees’ memberships and/or for one-offs, i.e. a book, a webinar, or a certificate training program. Our members are typically accountants, accounts payable professionals, auditors, controllers, and a few CFOs.
I spent a few hours one weekend in the beginning of March watching videos of various Italian groups singing from their balconies to entertain each other. This was about a month before Andrea Bocelli’s incredible performance. I thought, what can we do at AP Now to help our readers during this time? Some were working like crazy trying to get their jobs done, while others had many hours during the day where they were bored silly. Some lived with a lot of roommates or family members, and others lived alone.
We had to balance this with our obligations to our members who had paid for services, specifically a monthly newsletter and two webinars a month. For a few weeks we cut back on sending renewal notices, because that just did not seem right. With some trepidation we started again towards the end of March, and renewals continued at the same pace as before the crisis leading me to believe we were overly cautious.
I decided, we would offer one free event a week. These would not be our typical 100% educational sessions, but events that would both educate and entertain. I mentioned this to a colleague in the UK and he said his organization would like to participate. So, the AP Association (a global organization headquartered in England) and AP Now have begun offering what we call AP Isolation events each week at 11 am ET. Why so early? So they can also be seen in the UK at 4 pm.
Producing one extra session a week might not seem like a lot of work, but it is taking anywhere from three to 15 hours to produce them. A lot depends on the topic. I went through my archive of talks and have pulled them out and updated them. Some take only a little work, while others a lot more.
We were able to implement our AP Isolation events quickly for two reasons:
- We are small and there is not a lot of bureaucracy to go through to get approvals.
- One of my skills is quickly creating new content.
We include a number of questions and invite the audience to share their thoughts through the question box. These comments are shared, when appropriate and time permitting. We try to inject some humor in some of the questions. So, for example, we asked folks what they missed now they were in quarantine. One manager wrote in saying, “I can’t believe I am writing this, but I miss my staff.” Interestingly, the most frequently missed choice selected by participants was “the people” followed by “the technology.”
What Are the Benefits?
Our main goal in doing these weekly events is to make our members feel less alone, teach something, and maybe make them laugh or smile during the session. I think we have been succeeding. I know I certainly laugh occasionally and smile a lot during them.
I’ve also been collecting statistics on things like “What technology do you miss the most now that you are in quarantine?” as well as information for new talks. I’m already giving one entitled, Crisis Management: Your Accounts Payable Function in Uncertain Times. And I’m working on a second talk. Plus, the statistics are turned into Twitter tweets.
Will there be any long-term benefit? Only time will tell. At a minimum, we feel these sessions will help with brand loyalty and name recognition. But our primary objective is bringing a little light into the lives of our readers at a time when things may be uncertain.
This is part of a series of articles showcasing publisher responses to COVID-19. If you’d like to share what your publishing business is doing to serve audiences and maintain business, please reply to our callout for industry input.
Mary Schaeffer is the founder of AP Now, a membership organization. AP Now provides business intelligence around the accounts payable and payment functions. This content takes the form of a twice-a-week free ezine, a weekly podcast, a monthly newsletter, a variety of courses for accountants, webinars, seminars and the AP Best Practice certificate program. Schaeffer has a BS in Mathematics and an MBA in Finance. Before founding AP Now, she worked in corporate finance and treasury for three large companies.