Amazon the Omniscient recently patented “anticipatory shipping.” One day it hopes to send you products you want before you even order them. They’ll use data about purchases, wish lists, browsing and searches in your area to take pesky buying decisions out of your hands. You can already get regular, automatic delivery of products with Amazon’s “subscribe and save” service.

Once upon a time, subscriptions were limited to magazines and “of the month clubs.” Now you can subscribe to services that deliver pretty much anything you need to your door or computer — razors, pantyhose, condoms, films, ebooks and more.

Tien Tzuo, CEO of a subscription billing platform, says the “subscription economy” benefits organizations too. “Most of the things that a company needs to survive – phones, storage space, even offices – can now be handled via subscriptions at a fraction of the immediate capital outlay.” Associations find it more cost-effective to subscribe to Software as a Service (SaaS) or Network as a Service (NaaS) – management systems, email marketing platforms and network infrastructure hosted in the cloud – instead of investing in systems, software and servers.

The subscription economy appeals to a society that is overwhelmed with choices and willing to pay someone else to figure it out for them. Smart companies are taking on a curator’s role to add value to subscriptions. For example, Birchbox is a monthly subscription service that delivers boxes of curated cosmetic samples along with how-to videos and a magazine.

Association (fill in the blank) of the Month Club

Can you guess what I’m thinking? Why can’t associations offer subscriptions of curated products too? Members are inundated with information and choices. Make life a little easier for them. Provide a members-only curation service. Associations Now does a simple version of this with their daily Lunchtime Links and Social Media Roundup.

curationYou could identify the best articles, blog posts, videos or podcasts for your members in a weekly newsletter or section of your website. Or, you could take it to the next level: offer subscriptions to a monthly or bimonthly service. For example, send subscribers a newly released book every other month, one that would appeal to professionals in your industry.

Imagine if ASAE had a members-only book club subscription. We might receive books by conference keynotes, like Quiet by Susan Cain or Decisive by Chip and Don Heath, along with books by association management experts. The subscription could also include online book club discussions with guest appearances by the authors. What a way to stoke conversation about industry issues!

What types of products or services do your members need regularly at work? A monthly delivery of professional supplies or tools? A quarterly delivery of goodies for their staff? Once you identify their regular product needs and interests, figure out how you can meet those needs plus add an element of delight.

A recent Inc. magazine article discussed the growth of subscription services for niche and local interests. An industry analyst said, “It’s the only way to buy a gift for yourself without knowing what the gift is going to be.” How can you help your members treat themselves?

Rethink the membership menu.

The association market has the technology and AMS functionality to manage all kinds of subscriptions.

  • Make subscriptions a members-only benefit. If members subscribe, they’re automatically charged a fixed amount every month or quarter. 
  • A quarterly subscription service is included in basic membership. If members want to increase frequency, they pay extra. 
  • You could offer a monthly subscription as part of a premier membership level along with other exclusive benefits.

One caveat: don’t mix up membership with subscriptions – that’s been a hot topic lately in a discussion about monthly memberships in ASAE’s online community, Collaborate. Subscriptions are transactions: an exchange of money for a commodity. Membership is a relationship, experience and community. Membership should be transformational, not transactional.

Ask members to help you identify needs and interests and design subscriptions. As long as curated subscriptions are aligned with your association’s goals and mission, they will add value and delight to the membership experience.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer and one-time member of the Columbia House Record Club. 12 albums for a penny, who could resist!