What Does the Sale of The Washington Post Mean to Your Association?

We’re just back from a great family vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We RoadtoRelevanceplayed golf and tennis, went swimming, hiking, wine tasting, and visited Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. I spent most of the week off the computer, only looking at email once or twice.

I’ve been thinking about what Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post means for trade associations?

We heard the news a couple of weeks ago that Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon is buying The Washington Post and there have been many articles about what this means for the newspaper business.

Yesterday’s New York Times article, “He’s Going to Break Some Eggs” is certainly worth reading.

The connection to associations is Competition. Like newspapers, associations face an “onslaught of unprecedented, ubiquitous, and relentless competition in the space that once belonged exclusively to associations.” This quote is from Road to Relevance by Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, the most valuable book out there right now for association professionals. I think this book is so good that I’ll be featuring quotes in future posts. One of the themes of Road to Relevance is that associations are facing competition from multiple sources. Key areas where associations used to hold an advantage – information sharing, professional networking and education are now served by lots of new competitors. Information comes from the Internet, networking is done best via social media, and workshops are hosted by just about everyone.

We’re being told that the reason the Graham family is selling The Washington Post is because it’s been losing money for years and they need someone that can afford to continue losing money while he innovates the way the model operates. No one knows what Bezos will do with The Post. There’s lots of speculation about the changes that he might make. Whatever he does, it will become a journalism distribution system, not a newspaper. I’m sad about the end of newspapers, but these are powerful market forces that can’t be stopped.

For a thoughtful discussion of the weaknesses of most business models in today’s environment read Geoff Colvin’s “Your Business Model Doesn’t Work Anymore” in the February 25, 2013 Fortune.

I’m not saying that the business model of trade associations is broken; but associations face incredible competition from the for-profit world. Being a tax exempt organization doesn’t exempt your organization from competition for your members’ time and money. Association members are inundated with offers of information and opportunities to join groups and events. This space used to be reserved for the association.

What this means for associations is that they must focus on their unique advantage, whatever that may be. What does your association do for its members that they can’t get anywhere else? Is it a certification program, advocacy, a trade show? Whatever it is, as an association executive it is your responsibility to identify it and protect it. Don’t let the competition harm your association.

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2 Responses to What Does the Sale of The Washington Post Mean to Your Association?

  1. Jeff Ghannam says:

    It is indeed a brave new world. I would add that another challenge we have in the association community is convincing board members of this new business climate.

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