For many, The American Wanderer (TAW) is the primary linkage with AVA. It has, however, several disadvantages:
Expense: Of the $25 collected in annual associate member dues, the TAW consumes approximately 80% of the fee ($20.) Some of the remaining $5 is spent on renewal notices, membership cards, etc., leaving little of the dues left over for AVA operations. The TAW costs AVA about $35K/year, income that might be better appropriated to more effective services.
Quality: The format of the TAW – a tabloid printed on cheap newsprint – is stodgy and old-fashioned and positions AVA as being stodgy and old-fashioned. In the survey, it was noted that the reproduction quality of the photos is poor.
Duplication: Much of the information in the TAW – about 9 pages in every issue – ¼ of the publication – consists of (relatively) static information readily available on the web site: the list of AVA officers, the list of clubs/state associations and the list of upcoming walks. In the recent individual member survey, 88.4% of the respondents indicated that they prefer to receive walk information via e-mail.
Reach: In the recent survey, only about half of the respondents were associate members of AVA and thus receive the TAW. The other half of our committed walkers do not receive this information and (apparently) do not believe it is worth $25 to receive it.
Preaching to the Choir: If our intent is to grow the membership, the TAW format & distribution reserves our BEST sales material (which in my opinion is the lively descriptions of upcoming walks) for those who are already members. If our goal is to be recognized as “America’s Walking Club” this information needs to be shared with non-members. This is what will get them out walking.
Proposal: I propose that over the course of the next three years that TAW be de-constructed and its content distributed via other, more appropriate media, with the goal of eventually eliminating the publication.
AVA business: AVA business that is applicable primarily to AVA members (such as information about the elections or changes to the by-laws) is best distributed via e-mail and in a AVA business section of the web site. Also, much of this type of information is already being distributed via The Checkpoint.
Walk, Club & Special Program information: These listings in the back of every issue of the TAW are already available on the web site. I would suggest that the relatively few, presumably older, members who do not have internet access attend traditional club walks and can get the information there, via lists or brochures. Information about special programs –perhaps, if consolidated, another page of the TAW – is also available online.
Articles: The articles in the TAW – features about individual achievements, club articles about upcoming or past walks, walking tips, etc. – would shine brightest as blog entries on the web site. This is the kind of information that will attract new walkers / members and is not now available to them. In addition to accessibility, re-purposing these articles as blog entries has several other advantages: (a) A web page’s standing is the search engines is determined, in part, by the frequency of posting high quality original content. This is a prime source of content. In the last TAW, there were 80+ articles – enough for one post a day, and then some. (b) Deadlines could become more flexible. (c) The quality of the photos would be much, much better. (d) The workload could be distributed, much of it handled by volunteers rather than by a staff member or a contractor. Creating a blog post is similar in difficulty to creating a word processing document. Limited access could be granted so that a regional volunteer could receive, edit and format a blog entry, and an editor with higher access would then review and schedule it to make it public at a future date. (e) Blog posts can be shared – walkers can e-mail the link to friends and family (who may become future walkers and members); they can be shared on Facebook (65% of survey respondents use FaceBook), Twitter & other social media. The TAW is hard to share. (f) Blog posts are automatically archived, and can be searched (unlike the TAW.) (g) The blog space is infinitely expandable – there is no rise in out-of-pocket costs for longer articles or more articles. The formatting is easier than print as it does not have to conform to page size and number of pages. (h) Blog entries can include links to deeper information. (I) Analytics are available to count page views of each blog entry so that readership can be measured on an hourly basis, if need be.
Achievement Awards: This is the one area (the event and distance awards listings in the back of the TAW) that is probably not appropriate for the Internet. I would propose that these listings be published in a annual publication – a yearbook – that would also include a printed club listing. On alternate convention years, the yearbook could also include the awards listed in the recognition awards book, now published separately for the convention. (last year this was 58 pages.) This annual could be mailed to every club and every member, and handed out to convention registrants. Using a “publishing on demand” service such as createspace.com, a 107 page B&W perfect-bound book with a full color cover could be printed for $2.15. Adding on an extra $0.40 for bulk shipping to AVA HQ, $2.61 for individual mailing at media mail rate and $0.25 for a padded envelope, this yearbook could be printed and mailed to every member for less than $6. To coincide with the convention, the publication date would be June. This would appease lifetime members for the loss of the TAW and would not be difficult to format.
Unless I am misreading the financials, eliminating the TAW as a printed publication would result in a financial GAIN, even every single associate membership failed to renew. As noted, 80% of every annual associate membership dues is spent on production and mailing the TAW. An additional 1,000 life associate members also receive the TAW and (I suspect) many of these have already received member benefits far in excess of the amount of dues they originally paid (this is in no way a criticism of them – this is the deal AVA entered into. But there is no money left in the treasury of their original dues and we are still spending $20/year sending them the TAW) .
The yearbook would cost ¼ of the $25 associate membership dues (about 11K/year for printing & postage) but there would also be some cost saving in its consolidation with the convention awards booklet (cost unknown.) This leaves $23K from the original TAW budget, for a cost savings of approximately $14 for each member. Some of this could (and should) be used for staff hours and / or a contractor to be the “editor in chief” of the blog, reviewing posts, correcting formatting and scheduling and for the layout of the yearbook (this should be a simple job.) The rest of the dues saved could be applied to general operations. Not that I am proposing NO TAW, not substituting an e-TAW.
Implementation / timeline:
I would recommend immediately eliminating the TAW’s back pages that list the walks and the clubs, a savings of approx. 10 pages, which would shorten the publication by ¼ and result in an immediate cost savings. (It might be prudent to offer to mail a printed copy of this information to any member who requests it – that might be a good indicator of how important it actually is. Photocopying & mailing even 200 copies or so would be much cheaper, I suspect, than printing and mailing these 10+ pages of the TAW to all members and would keep everyone happy.)
As soon as it is feasible, I would start using the TAW articles as blog entries – especially the ones “advertising” walks.– while still printing them in the TAW. During this period (6 months?) the membership (and others) could discover the utility of having the articles online, share them, etc. Data on page views could be collected and studied. Procedures for processing the blog entries could be developed and refined.
I would suggest that the first “yearbook” could be published in conjunction with the convention in June 2017. It would not, at this point, have to be a full run mailed to every member– just enough copies for every convention-goer and a copy mailed to every club and state organization. The awards booklet would also be rolled up into this. I think any discussion about eliminating the TAW would be more productive and less controversial if all the players had a copy of the high quality book in hand. So, by convention time, we would have all of the pieces in place to elimination the TAW.
Then, do away with it as soon as politically practical – NLT the end of 2017