Some suggestions for managing regular bulletin distribution:
• Prepare a detailed plan for regular distribution of the bulletin. Take into consideration the many factors that may influence the distribution processes, such as national holidays.
• Prepare alternative plans in case you encounter unexpected difficulties.
• Schedule deadlines for the timely delivery of the publication. These may involve earlier mailings for some readers, for example, those in other countries.
• Develop and maintain an up-to-date database of bulletin recipients. Information about age, educational qualifications and occupation can be useful for planning promotion of the bulletin and some aspects of content. Changes of address, new subscriptions and timing for renewal notices also need to be entered regularly. The more subscribers you have, the more important it is to maintain a well-organized database to facilitate distribution.
• You may want to prepare additional mailing lists for specific bulletin issues.
• Check the cost of using a mailing service for distribution versus mailing your bulletin in-house. If you distribute yourself, consider using self-adhesive mailing labels printed directly from your computerised database and inexpensive environmentally-friendly wrappers or envelopes for packaging.
• You may want to consider a bulk mailing arrangement, with redistribution at the point of delivery. This is often cheaper and easier than mailing directly to individual subscribers.
• Follow up to find out if your subscribers are getting their bulletins on time. You can carry out a small random survey of local and distant subscribers. If you are conducting a larger reader survey, include a question on distribution. You can also simply include a questionnaire with the subscription renewal form: completing it at the same time as paying the subscription can prompt pertinent criticisms from subscribers, which can help the editorial team improve the bulletin.
In addition to a distribution list, you may want to reach people in your target audience who are not yet aware of the bulletin’s existence. One approach is to leave copies at public places, for example reception counters and lounges, where many people tend to congregate. You can also distribute the bulletins at special events, such as meetings and exhibitions. If an event such as a conference is relevant to the bulletin’s contents, you may want to mail a copy to participants or ask conference organizers to include the bulletin in their conference materials. However, if your bulletin relies on subscription, such free distribution might be risky because it can give the impression that the bulletin is regularly available free. It might be better to distribute a promotional leaflet describing the bulletin, or some extracts from the bulletin.
Case study. Farmakoterapeutické informace, Czech Republic
In 1995, the State Institute for Drug Control decided to launch a new independent drug bulletin Farmakoterapeutické informace [Pharmacotherapeutic Information], which would deal with rational therapy, information on specific groups of drugs, and new drugs and reports of adverse drug reactions. The bulletin was to be distributed free of charge to all doctors actively practicing medicine. This publishing activity was supported by WHO, and the publishing expenses were largely borne by the Ministry of Health through the State Institute for Drug Control budget. The bulletin was published monthly in the form of 4-page issues, with a circulation of 40,000 copies, which were distributed as a no-cost appendix to the Journal of the Czech Medical Chamber and to the Institute´s bulletin.
Cuts in the state budget in 1997 also brought a shortage of money for our bulletin. We were pressed to make a decision about how to continue publishing. In 1998 Farmakoterapeutické informace became an 8-page bimonthly bulletin; 14,000 copies were distributed on subscription with physicians paying only postage, as a no-cost appendix to the Institute´s bulletin and to the Czech JAMA and free of charge to every hospital owned by the state (around 20 copies). In 1998 most of the expenses were paid by the Foundation of Professor Skarnitzl (a non-profit organization) cooperating with the Institute.
At the start of 1999, cooperation with the Czech Medical Chamber was resumed and the bulletin is again published monthly in the form of 4-page issues which are distributed as a no-cost appendix to the journal of the Czech Medical Chamber, the Journal of the Czech Chamber of Pharmacists and to the Institute´s bulletin, with a total circulation of 52,000 copies. The expenses are partially paid (a small part) by the Foundation of Professor Skarnitzl and partially by the Czech Medical Chamber and Chamber of Pharmacists.
Contributed by Blanka Pospisilova, Farmakoterapeutické informace, Czech Republic
Another strategy is a distribution network using electronic media. In many countries electronic communication cannot replace printed materials, especially where access to computers and the Internet is limited. Additionally, clinicians may find a well-indexed printed bulletin easier to retrieve and use in daily practice. Many editors who publish their bulletin electronically do this in addition to a printed version. INASP has several useful articles about electronic publishing on its web site [http://www.inasp.info/index.html].
The primary advantage of online publishing is the rapid and efficient dissemination of information. It can also be used as a marketing strategy to reach a wider audience and solicit new subscribers. For example, the entire text of a bulletin can be electronically published and sent by e-mail to a list of readers. The creation of individual Internet homepages or web sites for a bulletin is yet another way of disseminating information. If the bulletins are being distributed free of charge, publishing them on the Internet creates greater visibility to an even wider audience. If the bulletin relies on subscriptions, part of the content can be made accessible on the web site, the rest being reserved for paying subscribers.
Another form of electronic publishing is on CD-ROM. Many bulletins publish CD-ROMs containing several years’ worth of back issues. This can be useful to people who do not have reliable access to the Internet, and they can provide readers with an easily accessible archive of bulletin issues.
Box 10.1 How to publish a drug bulletin electronically
There are various ways to publish a bulletin electronically. The first and simplest is to send the bulletin by e-mail as an attached file produced by a word processor. You can create an email distribution list with addresses of all your subscribers. This may sound too simple, but it works well.
Another simple and straightforward system of distributing a bulletin through the Internet is by converting the contents of the publication into a web format, using HTML (Hyper Text Mark Language). This does not require highly technical and sophisticated equipment or a designer. Many word processing programmes can convert text into HTML. Examples include the latest version of Microsoft Word, Front Page and others.
Hiring a skilled designer may produce fancy results at the cost of too many graphics, leading to slower transmission, which your readers may not appreciate. Often, a simpler approach is clearer and more useful. A good example is the bulletin produced by the LANIC network (Latin American Network Information Center) of the University of Texas, called Farmacos.
An interesting alternative, which can - and should - be offered together with the HTML version of the bulletin is the publication of the bulletin in a PDF format. PDF is a format developed by Acrobat that permits a file to be exported, downloaded and printed locally. If you have a PostScript printer of average quality, the results will be exactly like the original but in black and white. Colour printing is also possible. To download or print PDF files you need an application called Acrobat Reader. This is available free over the Internet [http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readermain.html]. Often, PDF file publishers include a link to the Acrobat Home Page with instructions on how to get and use Acrobat Reader. To produce PDF files from almost any desktop publisher or word processor you must use the Acrobat Printer software, which is available from Acrobat at a very reasonable price.
Apart from the advantage of letting readers print the bulletin ‘as is’, Acrobat Reader prevents other users from changing it. As a result, no spurious changes can be made after downloading, unlike a file produced on a word processor.
Acrobat Printer allows you to link various pages and graphics in an interactive manner, giving some life to your publication. There are several examples of bulletins distributed in this manner, including the bulletin of EURO-DURG (the Drug Utilization Research Group) [http://www.eurodurg.com/].
Contributed by Emilio Sanz