The decision by Meeting Professionals International to attach a non-member fee to the sustainability report on its 2011 World Education Congress has received pushback that points to a dilemma facing many associations: how and whether to charge for strategic knowledge that might deliver better results if it circulated free.
â€śWho would have thought that sustainability reports would become a new revenue stream?â€ť asked consultant Elaine Cohen in a May 5 post on Sustainable Business Forum. Cohen challenges the idea of charging a $200 non-member price for a report that is supposed to be about openness, accountability, andâ€”if the meeting met its sustainability objectivesâ€”telling the world about a job well done.
Through a series of research projects over the past couple of years, MPI has worked hard to position itself as a content and knowledge leader for the industry. But Cohenâ€™s post might point to a flaw in the plan.
If the projects deliver substantive results, weâ€™ll all be better for it. But their ultimate impact will depend on the circulation they receiveâ€”within MPIâ€™s membership but, even more crucially, beyond. If the reports carry a price tag for non-members, theyâ€™ll almost certainly be lost in a wave of free online content.
Those external audiences wonâ€™t pay for the information if they donâ€™t appreciate its value. They wonâ€™t appreciate its value if they never see it. So for every $200 MPI earns for a PDF download, it will lose the potential impact of delivering strategic knowledge to dozens, hundreds, or thousands of key influencers or decision-makers.
But this isnâ€™t as simple as second-guessing one judgment call about one report, or making a blanket decision that all content should circulate freely. The notion that â€śinformation yearns to be freeâ€ť saw a bit of a renaissance a couple of years ago, until the realization dawned that someone would eventually have to be paid to produce and distribute it. So where does this leave us?
- Our industry generally accepts a reasonable fee for a cornerstone training and certification course like the CMP.
- Many of us agreed, with a bit of grumbling, to pay somewhat more for a more strategic level of training, in the form of MPIâ€™s Global Certification in Meeting Management (CMM).
- Expect more grumbling now that a compendium of the new APEX/ASTM Sustainable Event Standards is available online for $149. I hope the grumbling doesnâ€™t prevent many, many document downloads, but it points to a problem for an organization like ASTM, whose business model depends in part on selling needed documents to captive audiences. These standards are educational, but they arenâ€™t mandatory, and a great opportunity will be lost if the fee deters the industry from embracing them.
- But an accountability document like a sustainability report is built to circulate, since its impact depends on its reach. In that case, a price tag clearly defeats the purpose.
Every association (and every armchair critic) will come up with their own dividing line between free and paid content. My criteria are largely audience-driven: if you absolutely have to deliver the message, or you arenâ€™t sure the target audience sees the need for the material youâ€™re offering, the price tag may defeat the purpose of producing the publication. What do you think?
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the worldâ€™s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content, and founding chair of the GMIC Sustainable Meetings Foundation. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.