Sunday, January 29, 2017

An Intervention Letter to the ANA

Dear ANA,

I meant that, what I just wrote above, calling you dear. You are dear to a great many collectors, myself included. For 125 years you have been the go to resource for numismatic information and education, not that I need to tell you. Lately though, there is a lot of talk about declining membership and your relevance in general. That's why I am writing this letter; I don't want to see you disappear. You are capable of so much and it hurts me to watch you dwindling away. In the past I had turned a blind eye to your suffering and said things like, "If the ANA is determined to kill itself, that's its business." No longer. You need an intervention.

Interventions are for addicts who are destroying themselves. In a way, that is the problem I see with you. You're addicted. You're addicted to old ideas. I see you trying to pull yourself back together, to modernize as best you can, and hopefully rescue yourself from oblivion. However, I do not see those efforts bearing fruit. I'm using the only measuring device I have at my disposal, my desire to become a member. The next thing I say is going to be harsh, so I wanted to warn you ahead of time, and to reiterate that, as with all intervention letters, it comes from a place of love.

I do not want to be a member of the ANA. Your organization is a relic of yesterday's numismatics and, even though you are making an effort to incorporate technology into what you do, it is obvious your thinking hasn't changed. You're acting as if it is still 2000. Collectors my age (I'm 34) have a few expectations on which you do not deliver.

1. We expect free information. Look at Wikipedia. It is easily one of the most visited sites and that is because they bring the free info. It seems most of your information is under lock and key, only available for a fee. I'm not willing to pay for answers to my occasional questions. So, when I need a numismatic answer, I ignore and Google it.

2. We expect an answer when we ask a question or some kind of response when we make a statement. I see your posts on Facebook and Twitter, I sometimes comment and never hear anything back. It makes me think, "Why should I bother?"

3. We love real people. Right now, I don't see you as a real person, or a collection of real people. Intellectually I know you are, that there are employees doing their jobs every single workday, but I don't feel a human vibe from you at all. It's like you are a government agency. It's a real turn off.

4. We like to share what we know. Another reason Wikipedia kills it in the information area is because users can modify the entries. Reddit is another example of information sharing done right. Users are able to share articles and get instant feedback from all sorts of people. It's interactive and we love that. I don't get that kind of interactivity at, so I go where I can.

Those are four behavior driven reasons why I am not interested in becoming a member. Here is how you could win me over.

Stop treating your social media accounts like they're a billboard. Social media is supposed to be social. Comment on things, have an opinion,. take a side. Don't be an unfeeling corporate-esque impartial robot. I'm not saying get into arguments with people, but having an opinion is okay. My generation respects it, even if we disagree.

Get more free information on your website. There is no reason why can't be the best free online numismatic encyclopedia, and making it member driven would be amazing. Think of the wealth of knowledge (bringing a sharp upswing in web traffic) that could rapidly accumulate if members contributed material. Keep it members only, as far as contributions go, no one would fault you for that. Also, make all the entries in the public domain, don't claim a copyright to any of it. You're not going to make money off the free encyclopedia, so why bother claiming a copy right? The information on your site will be cited much more often if people don't have to worry about violating a copy right.

Another way to get me on board, change your billing options. I'm much more comfortable paying $3.99 per month (Netflix style billing) than $46 per year. I realize the $3.99 is more money annually, but I don't care. $3.99 feels like a pittance while $46 is a nice condition Walking Liberty Half that I can't buy.

Let's talk member benefits.

The Numismatist - I would actually like to read the Numismatist, I think I would enjoy it. Also, it is very cool that you digitized every single issue. I think that is worth paying for.

Whitman Discount - Hell yes.

Hugh Wood Inc - I really like this one. Collection insurance is a very good idea, especially as your collection grows.

Money Museum/Library/Money Show - All nice to have.

Dell - Nope. It would be great if you could swing a deal with Samsung or Apple.

The rest of the benefits I have no opinion on.

Please understand, I want you to get to your 250 year anniversary and am not sure you will without altering your approach to fit with what younger collectors expect. I hope my candid approach wasn't too offputting. I think it is better to be upfront and honest rather than dancing around difficult subjects.

I have offered before in previous posts and I am offering again; I am happy to discuss this at length if you are interested.

Take care and good luck.



Tim Stroud said...

Don't forget the 10% discount from Wizard coin supply.

Mark Grubbs said...

This could not be more spot on.

Unknown said...

Kendall, your passion is important but I have to disagree with several of your points. I am a 32 year old full time dealer and a life member of the ANA. As far as your first point, the ANA should not try to reinvent the wheel. For US coins, PCGS Coinfacts is an incredible resource. They invest a lot of time and money into it and it is free. I have heard of organizations trying to replicate something like what PCGS already has done and it just didn't make sense. Nothing is free and if you have a company willing to foot the bill like PCGS, why fight against them.
To your second point, what makes you think going to the ANA for answers is your best option? There are dealers across the country who know as much or more than the people at the ANA who would be glad to talk to you. As a dealer, I love talking to collectors about the intellectual side of numismatics and not just the business end. Many of the old timers would bend over backwards to encourage someone of our generation who actually cares about the history and academic side of numismatics. This leads to your third point which is the human connection. Join a coins club and there should be people who can help you there. Develop a relationship with a dealer in your area of interest. In the end the ANA is a business. To your last point a coin wiki is dangerous. It is great that you want to share your knowledge but there would need to be a moderators which cost money. You would need reliable people who could be trusted to make sure the information is good. Again PCGS provides very reliable information. As far as the billing, doing monthly billing is logistically challenging and is more trouble than it is worth. The ANA is not really making money off your membership after all the costs so any more costs are prohibitive.
The question then is what is the ANA good for? First they do a fine job of putting together the World's Fair of Money every year. It is a time when collectors from around the world can get together and enjoy their hobby. There are auctions in every field, coin club meetings of clubs from across the country, world mints and most of the largest dealers in the world. Second, the ANA does a significant amount of work behind the scenes. They participate as part of a triumvirate with the PNG and ICTA on consumer and dealer protection issues. There are things they are involved with that don't make the front page but without them, your collecting experience would be different and less positive. Lastly, they really do good work for the industry. Maybe their work does not effect you today or tomorrow, at some point you will need them and it is important then to keep them around.