“Lightning” vs. “Lightning bug”

The difference between "lightning" and "lightning bug"

NGS membership in 1988: More than 10 million people

NGS membership in 2006: Roughly 5 million people.

Needless to say, we believe this (ongoing) nosedive has less to do with the internet and other externalities, and more about what National Geographic has consciously decided to become.

“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between a lightning bug and the lightning.”
Mark Twain

  • Calico Jack

    Years ago, it made sense to tie membership to the magazine subscription. The Yellow magazine still has one of the largest circulations in the world, but it has suffered like any magazine. NGS hasn’t re-envisioned what it means to be a member of the Society. They weakened it in a number of ways. Putting the magazine on newsstands was a good move in my opinion, but was one step in weakening membership, because now you could read the magazine without being a member. Then they removed the perks of membership, such as discounts on Society merchandise. They didn’t replace this with anything meaningful, anything that would make people feel a part of the Society. Given the strong reach of the Channel, in particular, they could probably get people to join the Society for a modest annual membership, and devise some content and other perks, delivered electronically, that would just be for members. Magazine subscriptions would continue to include membership, but also these other perks, such as email alerts or members-only e-newsletters. They could have a junior division that would include subscribers to Kids, but also those who joined independently for a very small fee which would also get electronic content and games. How else to engage the up-and-coming generations? My ideas of what membership could be may not be on target, but the point that there should be a meaningful form of membership is, I think, very important.

    • Hey CJ,

      Thanks for stopping by again…. We’re in total agreement that a “meaningful form of membership” is critical. But I don’t think email alerts or newsletters or games for the kids will cut it. People are trying to figure out ways to escape the email tsunami that hits them everyday, so offering more mail — and asking folks to pay for it — seems like a non-starter.

      As I’ve suggested repeatedly here, the question is not what can I get as a individual consumer; the question is what can I do as part of a community that’s more than 4 million strong? What leverage do I have if I pull in the same direction as everyone else at the Society? Most important: What’s the mission? Where’s the stirring speech by Chris Johns that says something beyond: Check out our great new cheetah pictures — in 3D! That won’t cut it either.

      The challenge is to figure out a few places we DON’T want to be — places where business partnerships will compromise the sort of Society we can become. Which is why launching a new NGM edition in China was a big mistake. We’ll gradually lose our editorial bearings and stop publishing the sorts of stories that helped make NGM an American treasure.

      I’ll soon be posting screenshots of NGM stories from the 1950s through 1980 — largely because the Magazine wasn’t always the Lorax, speaking for the trees. During that golden age, we had a very different sense of who we were, why our Society mattered, and what messages we wanted to transmit to the next generation. I’m not suggesting that we echo the same messages. But I do believe you have to have a clear sense of who we are as a Society, and what matters most. And right now I can’t hear it, or see it.

      Can you?

  • Calico Jack

    Years ago, it made sense to tie membership to the magazine subscription. The Yellow magazine still has one of the largest circulations in the world, but it has suffered like any magazine. NGS hasn’t re-envisioned what it means to be a member of the Society. They weakened it in a number of ways. Putting the magazine on newsstands was a good move in my opinion, but was one step in weakening membership, because now you could read the magazine without being a member. Then they removed the perks of membership, such as discounts on Society merchandise. They didn’t replace this with anything meaningful, anything that would make people feel a part of the Society. Given the strong reach of the Channel, in particular, they could probably get people to join the Society for a modest annual membership, and devise some content and other perks, delivered electronically, that would just be for members. Magazine subscriptions would continue to include membership, but also these other perks, such as email alerts or members-only e-newsletters. They could have a junior division that would include subscribers to Kids, but also those who joined independently for a very small fee which would also get electronic content and games. How else to engage the up-and-coming generations? My ideas of what membership could be may not be on target, but the point that there should be a meaningful form of membership is, I think, very important.

    • Hey CJ,

      Thanks for stopping by again…. We’re in total agreement that a “meaningful form of membership” is critical. But I don’t think email alerts or newsletters or games for the kids will cut it. People are trying to figure out ways to escape the email tsunami that hits them everyday, so offering more mail — and asking folks to pay for it — seems like a non-starter.

      As I’ve suggested repeatedly here, the question is not what can I get as a individual consumer; the question is what can I do as part of a community that’s more than 4 million strong? What leverage do I have if I pull in the same direction as everyone else at the Society? Most important: What’s the mission? Where’s the stirring speech by Chris Johns that says something beyond: Check out our great new cheetah pictures — in 3D! That won’t cut it either.

      The challenge is to figure out a few places we DON’T want to be — places where business partnerships will compromise the sort of Society we can become. Which is why launching a new NGM edition in China was a big mistake. We’ll gradually lose our editorial bearings and stop publishing the sorts of stories that helped make NGM an American treasure.

      I’ll soon be posting screenshots of NGM stories from the 1950s through 1980 — largely because the Magazine wasn’t always the Lorax, speaking for the trees. During that golden age, we had a very different sense of who we were, why our Society mattered, and what messages we wanted to transmit to the next generation. I’m not suggesting that we echo the same messages. But I do believe you have to have a clear sense of who we are as a Society, and what matters most. And right now I can’t hear it, or see it.

      Can you?

  • Therese

    The main reason for the nosedive in circulation is that, in my opinion and sad to say, people just don’t read like they used to. And I just don’t think people care whether they are “members” of the National Geographic Society or not. Do I think giving perks would help increase membership? Nope.

    Why even have “membership”?

    • Great question, Therese. Membership certainly is NOT about consuming NG content. Much of that is already available on the web for free.

      Here’s the best membership model I’ve devised: http://bit.ly/c60XUD

      And no, it’s not just a buying club. Rather, it’s a society with a message: You’re not “joining the adventure,” you’re already living it — and we can help you make more of it. Because you now have the tools, energy, and creativity to do what only a handful of photojournalists could do years ago, namely: Cover the world and everything in it.

      The photojournalists’ mantra says it all: “f8 and be there.” We all know what f8 is (because digital cameras are now cheap and easy to use) — and you’re already “there,” with the digital tools to share what you see with the world.

      The game has changed profoundly. But NGS doesn’t ask us to share much more than pictures of your pets.

      We can do so much better than this.

      Thanks again for swinging by….

  • Therese

    The main reason for the nosedive in circulation is that, in my opinion and sad to say, people just don’t read like they used to. And I just don’t think people care whether they are “members” of the National Geographic Society or not. Do I think giving perks would help increase membership? Nope.

    Why even have “membership”?

    • Great question, Therese. Membership certainly is NOT about consuming NG content. Much of that is already available on the web for free.

      Here’s the best membership model I’ve devised: http://bit.ly/c60XUD

      And no, it’s not just a buying club. Rather, it’s a society with a message: You’re not “joining the adventure,” you’re already living it — and we can help you make more of it. Because you now have the tools, energy, and creativity to do what only a handful of photojournalists could do years ago, namely: Cover the world and everything in it.

      The photojournalists’ mantra says it all: “f8 and be there.” We all know what f8 is (because digital cameras are now cheap and easy to use) — and you’re already “there,” with the digital tools to share what you see with the world.

      The game has changed profoundly. But NGS doesn’t ask us to share much more than pictures of your pets.

      We can do so much better than this.

      Thanks again for swinging by….

  • Calico Jack

    Well, Therese, I’d say NGS agrees with you, because I believe “membership” is now probably a construct to help keep the non-profit status where it is, having already had to move some of the businesses into the taxable subsidiary in the 90s.

    I dunno, I think people like to belong to organizations they believe in. But they need something more than a membership card to do it. And the people who would be true members are those who share the core belief in the Society’s mission.

    But maybe now NGS is just a media company that does good some works, like Discovery.

    • “…. People like to belong to organizations they believe in. But they need something more than a membership card to do it. And the people who would be true members are those who share the core belief in the Society’s mission.”

      Amen.

      The only question is: What’s that mission? And who at the Society is offering a inspiring, heartfelt, believable rendition of it?

  • Calico Jack

    Well, Therese, I’d say NGS agrees with you, because I believe “membership” is now probably a construct to help keep the non-profit status where it is, having already had to move some of the businesses into the taxable subsidiary in the 90s.

    I dunno, I think people like to belong to organizations they believe in. But they need something more than a membership card to do it. And the people who would be true members are those who share the core belief in the Society’s mission.

    But maybe now NGS is just a media company that does good some works, like Discovery.

    • “…. People like to belong to organizations they believe in. But they need something more than a membership card to do it. And the people who would be true members are those who share the core belief in the Society’s mission.”

      Amen.

      The only question is: What’s that mission? And who at the Society is offering a inspiring, heartfelt, believable rendition of it?

NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.