Letters from ALCTS

charles wilt, alcts executive director

From the Office

Charles Wilt, ALCTS Executive Director

New Business Development: ALA’s (and Ours) Next Newest Big Thing

As you may have read or heard, ALA’s Treasurer Rod Hersberger has been advocating an initiative to have ALA look at developing more business lines (read more revenue sources). According to Rod and very much the truth, ALA’s traditional business lines (conference and publishing) are “mature” meaning that they are not quite stagnant but have not been growing much over the last several years. This is not particularly good in that there needs to be at least some minimal growth to sustain these businesses if for no other reason that expenses do go up, even in a recessionary period such as we are now in.

The challenge to ALA is multifold, however. New business development takes time to research, create, market, and then hope for results. We are not in a position to just create new products and services that would have an impact on our customers. We do not credential. We do not have side businesses like American Medical Association does with patient visit coding for physicians. We seem to be rather limited in our ability to have new business ventures, at least on a grand scale. And that is what most people think about: large, grandiose schemes to raise tons of capital. I once suggested that being an ALCTS Board member meant each Board member had to buy $10 worth of lottery tickets and split the proceeds with ALCTS.

Before I go off onto too many more tangents, let me get to my point. That is, ALCTS needs to look at it own revenue sources and see if there are any new sources that we could develop. There are two reasons why I mention this now. First, it is now part of the budget process (I even have a form to complete if needed) and secondly, it is good for the continued growth of the association. These new business ideas are not going to be large, grandiose schemes, but most likely something much more subtle and very much more doable.

I have mentioned these before, but the three biggest sources of ALCTS revenue are dues, registration fees, and publications (excluding LRTS since its revenue almost pays for its expenses). I have also excluded sponsorships and donations. If we look at registration fees and publications, where does that lead us in terms of what new businesses we can develop?

The biggest source of new revenue for registration fees is not surprisingly our ever stronger continuing education program and offerings. Since we have moved almost exclusively to web based CE, our offerings and revenue have grown. This is an important growth area since these revenues support nonrevenue areas and help us provide some freebies along the way. It is the development of these CE opportunities that is emerging as the new business for us. Instead of just pulling these out of the air as we might have done in the past, efforts are being made to repurpose much of our really good content into other products, such as webinars based in publications or programs. This is also important because it accomplishes a number of things we need to which we need to pay attention: giving more opportunities for members to contribute particularly those who have authored the content to begin with, offering inexpensive CE for the library community as a whole, creating a brand for ALCTS in high quality CE, and making it possible to offer free events to members. The fact that the webinars pay for our subscription to the webinar software means that committees can use the meeting part of the package for meetings, we can do orientations and information sessions at no cost for members, and a whole host of possibilities we have not even yet considered.

As for publications, we are only chipping away at the surface as far as I am concerned. We need to re-think how we publish content and the process needed to make sure that content is up to our standards. We need to realize new forms of publications, some for purchase but others not. Although our books do well and there is a place for those in the publications portfolio we need to develop, we have not been very aggressive in exploring the possibilities offered by digital publishing. ALA Editions is now moving quite rapidly into this area, as are some of the other divisions. We may need to create different products for this initiative. I doubt anyone would download a 150-page book, but they might do so for a forty page shorter work on some intriguing topic or issue. Without the cost of printing, these could be priced attractively. These new products in turn would make it possible to produce more publications at no charge. Let me talk a bit about two different endeavors happening now. There is a new book being developed but not like we have done in the past. This book will be published digitally one chapter at a time over a period of time and then published as a book at the end for those who want to wait. This makes it quicker to market but also more cheaply produced. Mary Case, ALCTS President, and I have been discussing a free series (to members) of short essays, opinion pieces, and white papers on compelling issues and problems in contemporary technical services and collections.

There are many more ideas, I am sure, floating around out there. We need to capture them, evaluate their potential and if desirous, move rapidly for development and implementation. It is important to remember though, that we do not seek revenue just to make ALCTS rich at the expense of what our mission is. We need to make revenue to provide services and most importantly value for you the members who make up this association. By developing new businesses and new business models, we can increase our ability to serve you, the members, and increase that value in belonging to ALCTS.

Contact Charles Wilt (cwilt@ala.org).