[This article has been edited, with Guy Gibbins' agreement, from several emails]
I have known Graeme Ward for several years, also Mike Butterfield. It was after discussing web sites with Graeme that I searched for and found the AYRS email-site and sent sample postings to him. If my conclusions are unbalanced they have been influenced by the same postings that other visitors to the AYRS site have seen.
I remain surprised that a "Research Society" has such a Luddite approach to the Web. AYRS prices for what I suspect are now largely historical documents are ridiculous to my generation. AYRS income from these "memoirs from a damp shed" are, I suspect, minuscule compared from the possible membership subscriptions from a vibrant modern yacht research association.
Please prove me wrong, publish (preferably not on parchment) membership numbers for the last 10 years, publish income from the "damp shed".
[Sales of publications, other than those directly shipped to members as part of their subscription, is something like 10-15% of gross income. As far as we can find out, some 85% of AYRS members either don't have Internet access, or don't admit to it.]
Now I don't expect everyone to sign up to the web tomorrow. However AYRS has, I believe, a decreasing membership and unless AYRS has some mid to long term plan re membership then AYRS will effectively cease to exist.
There are I suspect, many onlookers like me who would be happy to join (and pay to subscribe to) an active yacht research society. How many members did you once have? How many now? Draw a graph, connect the points, say goodbye. The obituary will read "AYRS - Overcome by technology"
AYRS capital is not a mouldering pile of photocopies, nice though it would be to see them. AYRS main asset is its name and reputation; "branding", I believe, is the term. This hated web will not go away. My generation is not interested in quarterly updates. Amateur yacht research will go forward with or without AYRS. It's your choice.
I believe you have a subscription base of about 200 members at £25 each making a total of some £5000. Deducing further, sales of publications at 10-15% of gross income therefore produce approx. £600. Net income after postage/copying etc. is probably only £300. Assuming I join, it would cost me £25. In order to read even a small selected list of back articles, I have to stump up another £50. How much is it going to cost me to read the whole set ?
How many of your recent members have seen even a small fraction of these publications?
Sell your publications over the Web using credit card/merchant server. Pitch the price low. Have an official AYRS website, some areas password protected, available to members only. Have "tasters" in the public areas, perhaps a discussion forum visible to all, posting access only for members.
Forget old publication habits....long print runs...damp sheds etc.
Use modern DTP techniques to print reasonable quantities of newsletters/publication for non-connected members. Print required back issues only when requested. Publish submitted articles on the web promptly.
Reconsider your membership pricing structure. At $20 you would need say 350 members. Two tier pricing? Extra supplement for letter mail? Perhaps even offer access to all publications (once typed or OCR'ed) freely to members?
It is much easier to get someone to tap in a credit card number knowing the information he wants will be on his desk in minutes than expect him to write letters, buy money orders, etc., to buy something sight unseen.
Respect your old established members - discount their membership.
Trade on the AYRS name!
Personally I think the web is in its infancy and yet I suspect it is almost impossible these days to design/develop or research anything without the aid of computers. Being "connected" is only a short step further. Please correct me if I'm wrong but I understand that every university in the world is now connected. Without the input of new people and ideas AYRS will become the historical society I alluded to.
I certainly don't propose that you abandon your existing membership base. I suggest only that you reconsider your printing strategies in light of modern DTP capabilities.
I have a gut feeling that you have lost sight of original aims in order to balance the books. Surely, if only out of respect to the original authors, it is better that the total of AYRS knowledge is freely available to at least AYRS membership than the present situation where it is coveted in order to produce a minute income.
It would be a mammoth task to make all the old papers available, but shared between many would probably be possible in two to three years. (Starting many interesting discussions along the way)
The most important point from my ramblings is "branding". The name AYRS still has international recognition - this has value far in excess of any back catalogue. Sack the bean counters, it is the depth and quality of the input into AYRS that matters. Crack this and the necessary finance will follow.
Please don't take my comments as negative or cynically critical. As an outsider I form my opinions from that that other outsiders see. I would love to see AYRS back on centre stage but I feel the time is nigh, or else time, and AYRS, will pass.
This Web page was produced using a Beta version of HTML Transit 3.0