Creating a digital edition of your church newsletter, bulletin, or promotional literature has never been easier or more affordable. Moreover, why you should digitize has never been clearer. Advances in digital software, improvements in the size and quality of monitors, and increases in the speed and mobility of the Internet have all combined to create a more enjoyable experience for the digital edition reader. The result has been explosive growth over the past year in the availability of digital editions.
What is a digital edition? A digital edition can either be a “facsimile” electronic version of your paper publication or an entirely unique, custom-built digital publication that re-formats and re-purposes your content. Given the significant time and cost associated with their development, custom-built digital editions are not yet as common as facsimile digital editions and are generally only created by large consumer-driven publications that can afford to maintain a digital development department.
The more common facsimile digital edition is an enhanced, online publication that uses Flash-based, page-flip technology to simulate the look and feel of your traditional paper publication. Flash is unique multimedia software currently distributed by Adobe that adds animation and interactivity to web pages. It has recently become widely used in website design. Using the animation features of Flash, the pages of your online digital edition can be flipped or dragged just like a paper publication from one side of the screen to the other. Facsimile digital editions importantly maintain the formatting and lush design sense of your printed material, but go a step further by offering significant enhancements like increased flexibility, interactivity and rich media features. Digital editions, whether facsimile or custom-built, often contain hyperlinked URLs, email addresses, and page links, as well as streaming video, streaming audio, flash animation, and more.
Recent advancements in digital conversion software have made it easier than ever to create a facsimile digital edition. Because your print publication is originally created electronically on a computer, you more than likely already have your publication in a file format that can be easily converted into a digital edition. Most digital publishing companies accept Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) saved directly from InDesign, QuarkXpress, or any other desktop publishing software application you might be using. JPEGs are also acceptable. The resolution of your digital file should be anywhere from 200 to 300 dots per inch (dpi). The resolution can be larger, but the larger the resolution, the larger the size of the file, and the longer the file will take to send to your digital publisher. Furthermore, higher resolution and thus larger file sizes can slow down the experience of the digital reader, especially if the reader is using a slow Internet connection. Files work best if the size of each page averages between 200 and 400 kilobytes.
Some additional formatting of your print file may be necessary to create a high quality digital edition. To ensure that no unwanted crop marks appear on your pages, you should crop your pages before sending them to your digital publisher. The pages in the file should all be the same physical dimension and be saved as individual pages rather than spreads. Although physically smaller publications, like small pamphlets with size 6 or 8 point font, may require greater zoom capabilities to be comfortably read in a digital format, nearly any size publication can be successfully digitized and read online. When saving the PDF file of your publication, it is best if you flatten your transparencies (removing the transparencies that are often used to create layers in ads) and embed your fonts (ensuring that the fonts chosen for your publication are maintained and seen by your digital reader). These options are easily selectable when saving your file through your desktop publishing software.
Once you have properly saved and successfully delivered your file to your digital publisher, your digital edition can be ready in as short as a few minutes to as long as a few days. The completion time depends on the size of your publication and the features you are seeking in your digital edition. If you are only looking for a page-flipping digital edition of your paper publication that can be searched and archived online, then you will more than likely have a completed digital edition within a relatively short period of time, anywhere from a few minutes for publications under 25 pages and certain file sizes to a couple of hours for larger publications. If you are looking for more significant features, such as hyperlinks, video, audio, or flash animation, then it could take a few days to receive your completed digital edition.
When delivering your file to your digital publisher, you will need to specify what features you want in the digital edition. Your digital publisher can hyperlink all URLs, emails, page numbers or other similar references (such as a table of contents) throughout your digital edition. So for example, when your reader clicks on a hyperlinked URL, such as an advertiser website address, a separate window will open up on the screen and direct the reader to the appropriate website. Video files can be placed in any space on any page or alternatively be designed to open up in a separate pop-up window. Likewise, audio files can begin playing upon the opening of a page or upon the clicking of an audio button. You will need to check with your digital publisher on the file type requirements for video, audio, and flash. Some common file types required by digital publishers are “flv” for video, “mp3” for audio, and both “swf” and “fla” for flash animation. If your files are not currently in one of the acceptable formats, there are a number of free applications available on the web that will quickly and easily convert between file types.
So why should your Church consider going digital?
First and foremost, using digital editions where possible for your newsletters, bulletins, and promotional materials can significantly reduce the time, cost, and environmental impact associated with traditional printing and distribution. A simple newsletter can be created quickly and be immediately distributed by email, allowing delivery to occur in minutes rather than days. There are almost no costs associated with printing or delivery (no more envelopes or postage). This savings can obviously be significant for your organization. Furthermore, you can set up your digital publication to automatically deliver to a set email list of congregation members immediately upon the activation of any new issue, without any further administrative work. You can create distribution lists out of your congregation member list, focus groups within your congregation, or target groups to whom you wish to spread your message.
Digital editions also offer numerous other advantages over traditional paper publications. Your newsletters, bulletins, and promotional materials can become instantaneously searchable. Moreover, you can easily store a fully searchable archive of your publications on your own website, giving your congregation instant access to this important, historical information. Some digital publishers offer unique, miniature page-flipping icons of your publication that can be placed on your website that serve as the portal for your digital readers. These powerful icons can offer full subscription and reader registration services. They can also provide you with an instantaneous web presence.
Most digital publishers also offer detailed reader statistics with your digital edition, allowing you to track statistics like how many of your members view the digital edition, how many view each page of the digital edition, how much time they spend on each page of the digital edition, and which hyperlinks they click on in the digital edition. You can also track the geographic origin of each reader of the digital edition. These statistics can be vital to analyzing reader preferences and trends and also evaluating content placement and effectiveness. Other standard features include zoom, print, download PDF, and share with a friend.
In choosing a digital publisher, you should focus of course on price, features, hosting, and ease of use. Digital publishers can charge anywhere from $2 per page to as high as $35 per page. You should carefully investigate the features included for the price you are paying. Many digital publishers charge extra for their features, so be cautious of seemingly low per page base prices. You should also inquire as to who hosts the digital edition. Although the digital edition is accessible directly from your own website, it is often hosted by your digital publisher. This can be valuable because the digital publisher takes on the bandwidth burdens associated with digital edition views. Overall, your digital publishing experience should be enjoyable and uneventful. Technology has made digital editions both achievable and affordable. I highly suggest you give it a try and see what a digital edition can do for your Church.