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NEPA board planning session discusses changing nature of newsletter business.

About a quarter-century ago delegates from the Information Industry Association (IIA) came to an early board of directors meeting of the then Newsletter Association of America to impart the message that there was no future for such a narrowly focused group and to invite the board to fold its tent and come under the big umbrella of the IIA.

Miffed, the NAA board decided they liked their group- dedicated to the interests of subscription, for-profit newsletter publishers--just fine, thank you.

From time to time ever since, however, the association has debated whether it should broaden its focus to expand the membership and financial strength of the association. To be sure, association membership has been open to publishers of journals, looseleafs, and other information media.

Leaders of the association now frequently refer to their business as publishing "specialized information" rather than just "newsletters." The most recent name change, to Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association (NEPA), recognized not only the changing nature of the traditional newsletter business, but also openness to publishers not in the paper and ink business.

The announcement of the association's annual June meeting in Washington reflects this continuing interest in broadening the base: "Reinventing the Way You Do Business," with sessions devoted to audio conferences, webinars, e-commerce, and site licenses (NL/NL 3/17/03).

(Competition for NEPA in the "expansion" area was also evident in that same issue of NL/NL, which included notices of the Jupiter Online Media Conference in New York and the Buying & Selling eCommerce conference in Arizona, both scheduled prior to the NEPA June meeting.)

Long-range planning meeting held in Atlanta March 22-23

According to NEPA executive director Patti Wysocki, the recent long-range planning session of the board included a lot of discussion of the scope and membership of the association, but no new plans or changes were formally considered or adopted.

NL/NL spoke with several board members who attended the planning meeting about their views of the association.

While agreeing that no new decisions were made at the meeting, Michelle Cox, of the Briefings Publishing Group in Virginia, commented that determining the association's mission is always a balancing act.

"We have to remember that the association was established to serve the interests of for-profit newsletter publishers, but we also have the responsibility for the financial health of NEPA, which leads to broadening membership ... more members, more dues dollars," she said.

(This is also a problem within the for-profit publisher membership of NEPA. The largest number of members are start-ups or one-title publishers whose interests may not be entirely aligned with the much smaller number of large operations whose bigger dues and conference registration fees make the organization financially viable.)

Reflecting that dichotomy, Richard Ossoff, of Strafford Publications in Georgia, said that he felt a focus of discussion was the possibility of providing services for additional staff at existing member companies.

"If a member publisher has a position of fulfillment manager, there might not be enough of specific relevance to justify him or her attending the annual conference, but could we effectively develop teleconferences or listservs to meet those needs?"

Tom Hagy, of Mealey's in Pennsylvania, echoed the "no major decisions" viewpoint.

"What I took from the board planning meeting was a recommitment on the part of the board to look at the changing needs of the membership and matching the association's services to those needs.

"If there's a problem," Hagy continued, "it's in communicating the services we do offer to the membership. We changed the name to NEPA a few years ago. That wasn't the day the association discovered the internet. We'd been publishing articles and offering sessions on electronic challenges and opportunities for several previous years."

Both the newsletter business and the NEPA board change over the years

Board member Robert Williford, also from Georgia, said that "the newsletter business, or what the members of the association do in their businesses, changes over the years ... expanding beyond 'just newsletters' into other things."

"This is probably my last year on the board," Williford said. "I guess I've served 10 to 12 years in all--first when I was with American Health Consultants and now with my own operation, and the board has changed as well. I won't say 'dominated,' but the board was once largely entrepreneurs who owned larger newsletter operations. They're still represented but now there are also staff managers who run operations, plus some small, almost start-ups like myself.

"I think with its diverse membership, the present board does an excellent job representing the interests of the various types of publishers in the membership," Williford said.

In conclusion, NEPA treasurer Ira Mayer, of EPM Communications in New York, reported, "As for finances, we're ahead of budget, and the reserves are holding steady--which is quite outstanding in these times. From what I read, there are many associations that can't say the same.
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Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Mar 31, 2003
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