A couple of evenings ago, I Zoomed into a Western Apicultural Society mini-conference. This is a new monthly affair for the 43-year-old educational organization. The mini-conference is one of the few positive results of the dreadful Covid lockdown. Virtual conferences such as this have sprung up among civic groups, and I’m grateful to the Western Apicultural Society (WAS) president and leader, Jerry Bromenshenk of the University of Montana, for his tireless dedication to WAS. Jerry and a small group within WAS organize these well-attended monthly conferences. You can still watch any that you missed – WAS has archived a dozen conference videos on YouTube.
July’s WAS mini-conference, “Beekeeper Education and Communication: Meet the Editors“, featured Eugene Makovec (American Bee Journal), Jerry Hayes (Bee Culture), podcasters Kim Flottum and Jeff Ott, as well as special panelists Malcolm Sanford (APIS Newsletter) and Medhat Nasr. A cross-section cast of bee communicators.
The mini-conference panelist musings will be posted next week on the WAS Video page. Meanwhile, I’ll write a bit about why I tuned in. Although my question was not directly addressed, I was keenly curious about the financial well-being and long-term prospects of printed bee media. With free beekeeping information available on podcasts, blogs, and free papers, will our favourite beekeeping magazines be around forever? (American Bee Journal is already 160 years old!) Of course, my question was intended to get the editors talking about the future and how they might adapt. But, as I said, my submitted question wasn’t tackled.
I did, however, glean a bit (albeit indirectly) from the conversation. The bee publishing industry is apparently healthy. Subscription numbers are similar to levels I remember seeing many years ago. I suspect that people are continuing to purchase magazines for two principle reasons: 1) Trust; and 2) Contact.
We trust a bee magazine where expert experienced beekeepers are the editors. They are gatekeepers who reject unsound articles (or relegate them to the ‘letters to the editor’ pages). Unfortunately, there are no sentries stationed atop YouTube channels or blogposts. Without a second opinion, a monitor, a referee, or informed judge, anyone can write anything for anyone on the internet. I know because I get a lot of notes from new beekeepers who have been persuaded by some really peculiar advice and then refuse to take the truth for an answer. Nevertheless, there is some good information on the web. But it’s not curated information – it is up to you to curate the authors. That can be a lot of work. Sometimes you think that you’ve found a good source but it turns out to be a dog that’s doing the typing.
Purchasing a subscription to a magazine gives a special contact, or connection, to a bee communicator. You don’t always get the same feeling from a keyboard and monitor. Paying for a magazine is a bit like joining a club. Your money helps pay the editor’s salary and the fee given to authors. You are not just a guest, but a co-owner. (Admittedly, my own blog’s viewers number in the tens of thousands each month and many have become ‘net friends and regular commentators.)
The other form of contact is purely tactile. One of the editors during the WAS discussion mentioned that he likes holding a magazine. Probably most people do, though I prefer reading from screens. However, I still get great pleasure from hoarding printed books and magazines. Nevertheless, I figured that most people are moving towards digital, but one panelist on the WAS program indicated that only 600 or so buy digital – that would be well less than 10% of the subscribers. I was quite surprised at the low number.
My conclusion is that bee magazine publishing is a healthy industry and may be around for a long time. Beekeepers’ habits are slow to change and we tend to be loyal customers. We will keep buying bee journals. In fact, the advent of the current windfall of free beekeeping information – with its biased foibles and irregular quality – may actually convince many people that a small investment in a magazine subscription is the safest way to stay up-to-date.