Membership

Why I Broke Free of the Bundle

By / May 1, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

I reached my breaking point with the price of a cable TV package and decided to cut the cord. Do associations’ bundled member-benefits packages face the same danger?

Last September, I made one of the best decisions of my life. I got rid of my cable television subscription.

I joined the ranks of the cord cutters. Now, an HD antenna and internet service are all I need to get nearly all of the same enjoyment from television, for about $120 less—and about 500 fewer boring channels I never watched—per month.

There’s a good chance your association’s membership options look similar to cable television. A couple hundred bucks for access to everything, or nothing at all.

As a sports fan, I have run into a few occasions when a game I wanted to see was showing on ESPN, so I couldn’t watch. I also miss Discovery channel. That’s about it. Everything else was junk, and I’m glad I dumped it all. For ESPN and Discovery, though, I would be happy to pay $10 or $15 a month each. But that option isn’t available. The options are to either buy the bundle for half your paycheck or nothing at all. For a lot of people like me, this racket has gone on long enough, and we’re getting out, waiting for the day when true a la carte TV becomes reality.

By now I hope you’re starting to think about your association’s membership options. There’s a good chance they look similar to cable television. A couple hundred bucks for access to everything, or nothing at all.

The comparison isn’t perfect, of course. I sure as heck never felt like I “belonged” to my cable company or to a community of cable subscribers, nor did I want to. Associations, on the other hand, do sell a sense of belonging and community. That’s worth something. But how much?

I’ve gone on record to say that I think that people’s willingness to pay some amount of money to belong to a community will survive. And that a positive emotional connection with a community will lead people to value it highly. But the lesson from my experience with cable TV is that every bundled package of benefits has its breaking point. I’m willing to pay a fair amount of money for the handful of channels I value most, plus a small amount for “everything else.” When the price for everything else got too high, I was willing to give up the channels I valued most. In associations, “community” is just one of those valuable channels.

Members who want to belong will pay to do so. Or, members who want a magazine will pay to subscribe to it. And so on. But the more extras you tack on and use to justify raising the price of the bundle, the further you’ll get from the value of the one or two things each member actually values within the bundle.

Bundled benefits packages have worked for associations for a long time, and I don’t mean to proclaim that they won’t continue to work in the future. But the trouble with bundles is that they provide buyers with limited options and sellers with a clouded understanding of the individual values of their products and services. And, as cable TV providers are learning, emerging technology turns all of those options and values into a lot of moving targets.

Some organizations have turned to tiered memberships or a la carte memberships to sidestep the bundle problem. What has your association tried?

Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki is a contributing editor at Associations Now, a lifelong Phillies fan, and a proud alum of Ohio University. More »

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