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Ceri Thomas on why Oxford University is switching its alumni magazine from print to digital

By Zainab Mahmood

Oxford University has decided to take its decade-old alumni magazine Oxford Today digital only.

Former BBC Panorama editor Ceri Thomas, who stepped down after 24 years at the BBC last year, is now director of public affairs at Oxford University.

Explaining the move, he said: “We just haven’t been able to find a way to make the sums add up so that we can afford to keep printing it.

“It’s got an audience that matters to us and we need to spend a lot of effort figuring out how we keep in touch with those people and keep the relationship between them and this university as strong as we can.

“But at the end of the day, we have to be able to afford to print and post a magazine like Oxford Today, we just found that in the end we couldn’t.”

The magazine was distributed twice a year free of charge to Oxford alumni across the globe.

Thomas said that the increase in costs of printing and postage, particularly post-Brexit, have prevented the Oxford Today print editions from being distributed to the university’s international alumni community.

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This transition will require less advertising revenue, Thomas said: “The printed magazine had been pretty successful at attracting advertising revenue, I think it’s inevitable that our ad rate for online-only will be lower.”

Oxford Today has already been regularly uploading interviews and features on its website.

With over 200,000 alumni and a previous print circulation of 165,000 free of charge Thomas is optimistic about the publication’s future: “The print run is in our control, so it’s not like a bought magazine that it depends on how many people buy it.”

The last print edition was distributed in April, the next issue (usually circulated in October) will be the first of the online editions. Thomas said that the format of the digital editions will be determined through experimentation.

He said: “I think we will do what people want us to do, so we’ll test what the particular readership for this magazine wants, so that may well be a downloadable PDF if that proves popular.

“We will certainly be doing more video, we will be updating the features and the interviews at least as often as we do now and hopefully more so, and we’ll use email as well to communicate frequently with the people who get the magazine at the moment.

“So I think we’re going to have to feel our way through this…we’ve been looking around in the rest of the market to see what works…we will keep experimenting until we think that we’ve got the formula that’s working for the alumni of this university.”

The change will not cause any job losses; the one journalist on the staff and numerous freelance writers and contributors will remain.

Thomas was unsure as to whether other universities will make the transition to digital-only for their alumni magazines, but insisted that they must have the same cost pressures.

Thomas said that a small print run of Oxford Today will continue for alumni who, for whatever reasons, cannot access the new digital editions.

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