Alice Meadows 
Alice Meadows
Director of Communications 
Source: Fuse / Thinkstock

In our first post on this topic we told you some of our thoughts about what the association of the future might look like. Before that, John Graham, CEO of ASAE, had told us what he thinks. Now it’s time to hear from some of the senior association executives who we have been talking to in North America about this topic over the past few weeks.  Over the coming months, we will also be running a series of interviews with senior society executives from around the globe on this topic.

Of course, no two associations are the same, and some society executives anticipate less change than others.  Michael Haley (Executive Director of the International Communication Association), for example, thinks that in the future his association will look, “Much the same as it does today”.  But for those who do envisage significant change, there is a lot of consensus about what form that change will take.

For example, most people believe that their associations will be more web-based in future, with the digital environment offering more opportunities for customization.  Shawn Boynes (Executive Director of the American Association of Anatomists) believes that, “The association of the future will need to be more nimble in responding to the needs of the marketplace, which will be much broader than just core members. Likewise, traditional membership models will no longer be sustainable because customers will want to pick and choose what they want to pay for instead of taking an all for one package deal.” Others agree: to quote Chris McEntee (Executive Director of the American Geophysical Union), tomorrow’s societies will be “more like a network than a traditional membership model”, while Will Morgan (Executive Director, MPSA) sees “more interaction on-line, via mobile devices”. Tom Reiser (Executive Director, International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis) believes his members will expect "online (available at any time) [and] relevant to their needs (difficult for international organizations as there are different needs around the world); services/benefits that help them do a better job and/or advance their career [while] contributing to the overall evolution of the field." Karen Peddicord, Executive Director of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses) sums it up as, “More electronic everything!”

Helping members to do a better job and advance their careers, especially through education and e-learning, is also seen as key.  Ed Liebow (Executive Director of the American Anthropological Association) believes that members will expect, “Career development services, access to publishing and meeting services, training for students, ethics standards, training program accreditation”. Lorelle R. Swader, Director of the Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment of the American Library Association says that her vision for associations of the future would “include ways for members’ needs to be met for continuing education that are learner-centered (face-to- face and distance)…”. Darrin Scheid (Member Communications Manager at the American College of Emergency Physicians) agrees that there will be more online learning opportunities and virtual education.

Value is another buzzword.  Will Morgan believes that, “the value that we add is in insuring the quality of the services we have”, while Ed Liebow expects that his members will want “greater value for membership dues in the form of opportunities for scholarly exchange, career development services, increased public awareness about the relevance of the discipline and training.”  Certainly, most of the executives we spoke to believe that their members will expect more – or as Karen Peddicord puts it, “the same and more!” In addition, as Richard Yep, Executive Director of the American Counseling Association, points out, “We need to start running our societies from a perspective that encompasses business principles and exceptional customer service.”

When it comes to what associations won’t be or do in future, there is also a lot of consensus.  Richard Yep notes that to be successful means associations “ridding ourselves of outdated legacy-type products and services by carefully evaluating what we offer.”  And although Ed Liebow’s members “don't appear to ever want to discard existing benefits and services”, most association executives believe that print products will certainly disappear, with other services such as affinity programs and exhibit halls at society meetings also flagged up as being at risk.

Most of the executives we spoke to are undertaking member surveys to discover where to direct their efforts, but this is fraught with uncertainty.  There is the notorious difference between what people say they want, and what they will actually pay for when it is offered. And it is very hard for people to imagine anything which does not yet exist:  if you had asked a group whether they wanted an ipad a few years ago, most would say their lives were complete without one.  The sales figures tell another story.  So getting to the truth of what constitutes value for members, and making it both relevant and innovative, requires a host of different approaches.

Perhaps the last word should go to Lorelle Swader, who was also the winner of our Association of the Future competition.  She perfectly sums up the challenge – and opportunity – facing learned and professional societies today as, “Associations have to stay relevant and current, but also be in the forefront of what members need. They must anticipate the unknown!”

With thanks to all the association executives who contributed their thoughts, as well as to my colleague Vanessa LaFaye, who interviewed many of them.

    Rick Anderson
Rick Anderson
Interim Dean, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

In a recent posting to this blog, Emily Gillingham reported on some of what she and her colleagues learned from a recent meeting of Wiley Blackwell's North American Customer Advisory Board—specifically, she listed ten of the challenges currently faced by librarians, which were discussed at the meeting.

In the same spirit and at Emily's invitation, I have polled some of my colleagues who work for publishers, vendors,  consultants, and other service providers on the commercial side of the scholarly communication equation. Here, based on the input I received (and with gratitude to my anonymous interlocutors), are ten of the biggest challenges publishers are currently facing, presented in no particular order:


    1. Government involvement in the industry. Governments shape copyright (both by defining the law and by establishing patterns of enforcement or non-enforcement) and are increasingly involved in Open Access (OA) initiatives, about which more below.


    1. Emergence of altmetrics. What gets measured is going to drive what gets produced. Academia's confusion and disagreement over what should be measured and how measurement should be done creates radical ambiguity in the publishing marketplace.


    1. Lack of respect and appreciation for what publishers do beyond simply adding value to content and making it available.


    1. Customer budgets are flat or declining. Scholarly publishers' traditional customer base—academic libraries—is working in an increasingly difficult budget environment. (This leads to the next issue…)


    1. Limited growth opportunities. Business must generally grow or die, particularly if they answer to shareholders. When your customers' budgets are tight and getting tighter, where will the money come from to invest in the transition from an old business to a new one?  (This leads to the next issue…)


    1. Maintaining a legacy business while simultaneously building a new business. This goes beyond just the (considerable) problems and expense of maintaining print while creating an online platform. The new publishing business may in fact turn out to be multiple businesses, and it's not at all clear what those will be.


    1. Amazon. Amazon controls an increasing share of the commercial exchange in cultural information of all types. Not all of the problems posed by this situation are obvious at this point, but they may become so soon—and painfully.


    1. Rise of demand-driven acquisition. It used to be that publishers could count on a certain number of libraries buying their books on a "just-in-case" basis. That number of reliable sales is going steadily downward as libraries increasingly decline to purchase books until actual demand for them is demonstrated.


    1. Rise of Open Access. While OA provides opportunities for publishers, it creates headaches and challenges as well. Publishers who move in the direction of Gold (i.e. author pays") OA face criticism for "double-dipping" and suspicion about quality control; those who embrace Green (i.e. self-archiving) OA face serious revenue challenges. There is no easy or simple way into an OA future.


    1. Limited capacity for reinvention. Can publishers really provide services and solutions beyond traditional books and journals? How much of a market really exists for "workflow solutions"? As libraries have been realizing over the past two decades, a centuries-long past carries with it a very heavy weight of inertia, one that is not easily (or cheaply) thrown off.


What have we missed? Comments and additions to this list will be more than welcome.

See also Alice Meadows' blog post on 10 challenges that academic and professional societies are facing.

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