A Paper for the DSA Council Meeting 9 June 2020 by Chris Nash
Ranger is undoubtedly one of the jewels in the DSA Crown. Considering Ranger before a future DSA strategy is decided could be putting the cart before the horse. The DSA challenge is the future. Nevertheless, Ranger presents an immediate problem for the DSA. DSA is not a publisher and Ranger is unsustainable without sponsorship. The paper looks at Ranger from a particular viewpoint relating to resources. It looks at The Ranger and an E-Ranger with development potential.
The discussion around Ranger should be more than affordability. As matters stand, Ranger is a good quality journal or magazine produced in hard copy and believed to be of interest and undefined value to the members. Ranger was initiated to attract more members. Given the life of Ranger, the objective was not met. And through a flash of inspiration, the distribution list included many in the MoD. The distribution was a means to an end to persuade Industry that Ranger offered an opportunity to bring to the attention of the MoD their name and capability at a relatively low cost. Whether advertising in Ranger aided the advertisers or whether those in receipt of Ranger read the publication is unknown. Ranger did not make any significant impact on attracting new members. Today advertising income has all but dried up.
The immediate and principal concern with Ranger is resources. The total lack of advertising income means that the publication has to be heavily subsidised and while it may be possible to fund the Ranger for the immediate future drawing down on capital is a probable route to decline. Perhaps the funds could be better spent to attract members with a greater focus on face to face contact through seminars, prizes, debates and cross-referencing and cross-pollination with other organisations and audiences?
However, the immediate and strategic resource problem includes the age profile of the DSA and the lack of people ready to come forward and commit to the activities. Whether given the changes in technology, social media, the role of the military geo specialist and so forth offers the opportunity to recruit more members is a matter for consideration outside the immediate concerns for Ranger. However, this is not totally correct because if Ranger is to continue, then it should be relevant to the future members as well as the current members. If Ranger is to be kept, DSA will need people to be directly involved. The one-man band and an ad hoc approach are unworkable.
The question of distribution and the reality of cost for a hard-copy Ranger should be addressed. The delivery is a significant cost driver.
The problems of Ranger have been on the horizon for some time. In 2013 there was a decision, or recommendation, to create a digital Ranger. The proposal was not accepted, and seven years later, Ranger continues to face difficulties. Are there alternative options?
Does a digital Ranger offer a solution to the problems of the hard-copy Ranger?
A digital Ranger should not be thought of just in terms of a replacement for the hard-copy Ranger. It has the potential to reach a global audience. As with the DSA website, a digital journal will need regular reviews and the resource to manage the design and technical aspects of the digital publication. If the electronic Ranger became popular, as established through measurement, then there are possibilities for attracting advertising. It would be possible to move today to a digital Ranger.
The current circumstances of the funding and the pandemic suggest a need offer an opportunity to make a change to the publication. As with all change to be effective, it will need to be developed with time.
A forward-looking financial baseline (provided to Council by PW) suggests that to maintain a balanced budget, the annual funding available for a professional graphics DSA publication would be about £1880 per year. With the potential cost of professional graphics being in the order of £2000 plus and then the additional cost of any online services and software, a balanced budget may not be achievable. The change should be about slowly catching a monkey.
Given the real problem that the DSA faces – the membership demographic and volunteers, it may be better to curtail ambition and revert to less ambitious electronic publication as a means of communication with the members. The electronic publication could be more frequent and more flexible than Ranger and include a wide range of material. If sufficient thought and development are given to the publication, it could morph into an electronic Ranger. While an e-magazine can be done in Word and converted to PDF, it is with some thought probably acceptable with longer-term desktop publishing being considered. The cost should be well within what is affordable. There are also opportunities to adapt the approach for other web site publications and submissions such as historical material. In-house production offers greater flexibility and cost-saving than an external contract.
Overcoming the resource-related problems of Ranger requires a cost-effective way of communicating in parallel with a review on how to overcome the age demographic of the DSA. An electronic, simple and in house Ranger could provide a cost-effective means of satisfying several DSA objectives and targeting a younger generation while potentially free funds for other activities.
The bank holiday weekend was spent investigating digital publishing. Ranger is compiled as a digital publication and then printed. A professionally produced magazine using graphics designers and with the right material will usually trump the in house MS Office publication. That is not to say that an in house publication will by default be poor. The choice is against the purpose, target audience, investment in the development design, production cost and distribution. Buying desktop publishing software is an option, but it will require a skilled designer and operator. Again it comes down to catching the monkey. Given the human resources available to DSA a MS Office designed Ranger is possible. – An alternative font size.
This paper is a simple representation of how E-Ranger may look. (The original paper included graphics, but for this forum I have had to drop them out. JK)
A Paper for the DSA Council Meeting 9 June 2020