Associations and Unions: A Solution

A LOT of talk lately about associations and unions for new media types, how they are different, what such an organization would look like, etc. It was the topic of yesterdays hour long discussion on Mediasphere (via Blog Talk Radio) where myself, Jim Turner, Tris Hussey, Steven Fisher and Des Walsh discussed the idea in length. Much of this entry comes as a direct result of that conversation.

Enough people are saying that a union for bloggers can’t and won’t work and the point was made in the show that unions and associations are not necessarily the same thing. I agree. In my mind, unions are organizations where members pay dues, are recognized for a standard of labor, elect officers and in return, the organization uses its weight to accomplish tasks on behalf of the labor force. This could include lobbying elected officials, collective bargaining and ensuring “rights” for union members. Unions are based on the concept of employers (management) and employees (union) and tackle the issues that affect that relationship.

Associations, on the other hand, may have fees, aggregate negotiated bargains, deals, discounts and other “perks” for its membership. It is not focused on the employer-employee relationship and instead, focuses on a much more abstract relationship of members and unknown other external entities. To this end, the perceived weight and influence is far less effective, if effective at all.

A good example of an association would be the standard home owners association that uses its influence to regulate certain “quality of life” issues such as length of grass, trash disposal, etc. They also might negotiate discounted rates with landscaping companies, or home renovation organizations on behalf of the homeowners.

I think in the grand scheme of “what is what”, a union is a type of association while an Association is not necessarily a union.

I’ve been critical of folks over at the ADM as well as the ideas that have come out of these topic discussions at YearlyKos and BlogHer. The argument I’ve made all along, and continue to stand by, is that bloggers are independants and not generally likely to relinquish control (because there’s no such thing as a free lunch). There will always be exceptions to this rule, but I’d say that Associations, as a paid concept, is generally a deal breaker for almost all of the long tail, and I’d venture most of the “head of the tail” as well. It’s an idea that has been discussed and we’ve gotten nowhere – nobody wants to sign on to such an organization to make it work as it would mean sacrifice.

Now instead of slinging mud, I’d propose the following “idea” for a successful Association.

  1. Make the organization free for anyone. This will give folks an opportunity to be a part of a group that does serve their interests. As a free member, they would not have access to special discounts, or “perks”
  2. Tiered membership. Allow for a fee-based tier membership which gives access to “perks”, but also provides a seat on an “Executive Council”
  3. Avoid the Commerce of new media. We don’t need another Federated Media negotiating and selling advertising on behalf of anyone.
  4. Provide options for members wanting to find out how to monetize their content. This too could be a paid service level, or could be sold as one off eBooks. Or, in the spirit of Creative Commons, provide user generated content on the topic free of charge.
  5. Invite large organizations to the table in the first year. After that, the cost for membership increases to a $5000 level. This provides a hurdle for entry for companies simply wanting a piece of the pie and using the organization as a stepping stool thus drowning out individual members.
  6. Initiate an Executive council of 9 members. The nine members are broken down equally – 3 representing companies, 3 representing individuals and 3 representing Association staff. Council members serve in 2 year terms and are eligible for re-election only once.

I believe these steps will dissuade any naysayers. It does not silence those who have no money. It does give an opportunity for partnership at the table with a small barrier for entry (No Trolls for You!) and provides tangible benefits to anyone recognizing the need for some collaboration.