The following is my own opinion, and I know people will disagree. There’s a comment box at the bottom of this article – please use it!
This year, 2009, has seen dramatic change. Longstanding institutions have fallen after years of speculation that they were “unsustainable.” Car companies have declared bankruptcy. Major daily newspapers are on the brink.
I worry collector clubs may be headed in the same direction if we don’t take bold action. I’m a member of two great clubs, TCI and ATCA, and in touch with many others, and for years I’ve heard concerns like these: Our members are getting older. How can we get young people involved? Attendance at shows has dropped, because of high gas prices, etc.
Many clubs originally started for buying and selling, but today serve two main purposes: 1) camaraderie and friendship, and 2) sharing information about the hobby.
Most clubs do fine on camaraderie and friendship. They’re run by dedicated and passionate volunteers, who believe in the hobby and work hard on club business. Whether in an online discussion or in person at a show, most members enjoy the social aspects and do a great job welcoming new people into the hobby.
“What we learned about all those years is just too cool, too interesting, too compelling to keep off the Internet.”
The problem is #2, information sharing. The traditional vehicle has been the club newsletter. Many clubs have published newsletters for decades, chock full of well-researched articles, pictures, and practical advice – everything a new collector would need to start getting excited.
Unfortunately, this information might as well be locked away in Fort Knox. If I’m a teenager or a 30-something starting to get curious about collecting, I go to Google to start my search. I wont find these newsletter archives on Google, because they’re protected behind thick castle walls designed to keep outsiders away! At best, they’re online in a password protected members area. But most likely, they’re in binders at the home of a few longtime club members.
Newsletters are the main member benefit for many clubs, the main justification for the $40 or so annual fee. It wouldn’t be fair to members, the thinking goes, to put the back issues online for free because people have paid years of membership fees to get them. And certainly not current issues – why would you pay the dues if you could just get the newsletter free? The castle walls are the club’s business model.
Some clubs also make money from the newsletter archives by selling them on CD-ROM for say $20. But let’s run the numbers here. If you sell 50 copies a year, that’s $1,000. But that’s 50 people compared to the tens of thousands searching for your hobby on Google.
I happen to know that 12,000 people a month search for “antique telephone” on Google, and this is a small hobby (I’m a telephone collector). 23,000 search for “vintage telephone.” How many of those 35,000 people a month could be converted into telephone collectors if they could dive right into the meat of the hobby? (To get the Google numbers for your hobby, just use Google’s keyword research tool).
I’d like to see clubs put their full newsletter archives online, free and indexable by Google. I believe it would spark dramatic new interest in collecting and growth in collecting clubs, especially among young people. A few members may not agree, “but its for the future of the club,” you just have to tell them. “What we learned and wrote about all those years is just too cool, too interesting, too compelling to keep off the Internet, behind castle walls and away from the next generation.”
As for current issues, there’s a strong argument for putting those online too. Most media publications put their content online for free, and that’s what people have come to expect. And it costs a whole lot less than printing and mailing.
My bottom line: if we don’t take down our castle walls and put our collecting crown jewels online, young people will never know how great our hobbies are, and will instead pursue some other, non-collecting interest. If we do put this great stuff online, the sky’s the limit!