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NEPA marks 25th anniversary, founding member questions its future.

In January 1977, 18 newsletter publishers ponied up $1,000 each (in addition to their dues and payable over time) to start what was then called the Newsletter Association of America. Howard Penn Hudson, publisher emeritus of The Newsletter on Newsletters, was the driving force behind founding the association, having held newsletter conferences for years in New York City, but as early as 1964 a number of publishers had founded the Washington Independent Newsletter Association. The two organizations eventually merged.

The evolving makeup and focus of the association are reflected in its various name changes over the years. Acknowledging the growing number of members from Canada, the U.K., Europe and Australia led to dropping "of America." Subsequently, "Publishers" was added, and it was known as NPA until a couple of years ago, when it became the Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Association.

"Cloudy future"

NEPA's newsletter, Hotline, recently marked the 25th anniversary by devoting the bulk of its issue to running excerpts of noteworthy articles it had run through the years. It also interviewed many of the founding members still active in the business. The most provocative of those interviews was Leonard A.C. Eiserer's observations: "While a proven optimist in the newsletter business (62 years plus and still striving), I see a cloudy future for small publishers who created NEPA and for NEPA itself.

"The era of mom-and-pop entrepreneurs who thrived in the '70s and '80s is drawing to a close--if it hasn't already gone the way of the family corner drugstore," Eiserer said. "Many of the pioneers have sold out or retired, and the entry price to newsletter publishing is now too high for the type who wrote the editorial copy as well as sales promotion, kept the books and also locked the doors at night."

He added, "NEPA, whose membership benefits would do credit to an association double its size, faces increasing loss of membership because of mergers, bankruptcies and fewer new starts. Aside from reducing the management staffs through mergers, large corporations generally have less need for NEPA services than the struggling entrepreneur. Some of the hucksters who benefit from the sale and/or merger of companies see better days for the industry in 2002. But the turnaround in business for them holds small benefit for NEPA."

NEPA's response

We asked the current NEPA president, Margie Weiner, to respond to Eiserer's grim analysis. "In a nutshell," she said, "I believe that our association has evolved and changed many times over the years. I was very impressed at the December meeting and again at the publishers' meeting in January with how electronic savvy a group we are. We have what the dot.coms wanted: content.

"Without it, they didn't have much of a business. We do and we have the skills to adapt and deliver our content in the format that our customers and prospects need.

"Our entrepreneurial culture still pervades most of our businesses so that we can be nimble. We continue to be sophisticated marketers. We are learning new things every day. And, because the barriers to entry remain relatively low in our business, new businesses seek out NEPA constantly. So, I'm not sure that I agree that our future is as dismal as Len does.

"However," Weiner continued, "that is not to say that the future is a bed of roses. Many of us are suffering from the recession and reduced direct mail response rates. But we can meet and beat the challenges that lie ahead. We've done it before. I think some of those challenges are educating younger audiences about the value of our content--they don't know what they don't know.

"As an assocation, we need to attract members who are electronic content providers and we need to find ways to satisfy their needs. This requires continued efforts on the part of our staff and our Board--and our membership--to identify those prospects and create programs that will help them in their businesses.

"Content remains king," she concluded, "and we are nothing if not the best content creators around!"

Jim Marshall: "That is bull"

Jim Marshall, a founding member of NEPA, recalled the time leading up to the association's founding. "In those early days, it was this publication, The Newsletter on Newsletters, published and edited by the guru of the industry, Howard Penn Hudson, that provided the helpful information that we needed as we struggled to meet payroll.

"In the mid-1970s Howard used to run a yearly conference in New York City that brought together the publishers from the New York and Washington areas along with a scattering from other parts of the country.

"Only the old timers in this association realize how important and selfless Howard Hudson was in getting the association off the ground. The revenue stream from the yearly seminars that Howard ran eventually ended up coming to the new association rather than to him."

Responding to Eiserer's feeling that NEPA has outlived its usefulness, Marshall said, "That is bull. There are many publishing giants now involved in the newsletter business. But a look at the roster of NEPA shows that a majority of its members are still pretty small operations.

"The information and ideas exchanged in NEPA conferences is invaluable. The 'small publishers' winter meeting provides the opportunity for publishers to pick the brains of colleagues. This is in addition to the other valuable services provided by NEPA, including its recent expansion into the audio-conference field."

Marshall concluded, "Long live NEPA!"
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Feb 21, 2002
Previous Article:She said, he says. (Editing).
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