Membership without a publication: a history of failure
by Bill Goichberg

NOTE:  This article was written in August 2003.  I have placed a motion on the agenda for the 2005 Delegates Meeting to abolish Economy Scholastic memberships, but it would also lower the price of scholastic membership with a publication by $2, so paid online by an affiliate this would drop from $15 to $13 (the current cost of Economy Scholastic).  The motion would also lower the cost of Adult membership by $4, Youth and Scholastic each by $2.

In 1975, USCF dues for juniors were $8, including a monthly Chess Life.  The Delegates passed a motion that year to introduce a "Participating Junior" membership without a publication for $2.50 per year, effective December 1.  This was not my idea, but I supported it as I believed the lower cost would bring in a tremendous number of new juniors, many of whom would later upgrade to a membership with Chess Life and play in open tournaments. 

I was wrong.  The lower cost of the PJ membership had little promotional effect, and the new membership category served mainly to hurt USCF by converting Junior members with Chess Life into PJs without the magazine, and ultimately into non-members.
PJs were a disaster, one of the worst blunders in USCF history.  Let's look at some membership totals as of June 30, then the end of the fiscal year.

1975: Adults 37005, Juniors 14837.  The last year before PJs.
1976: Adults 36010, Juniors 8784, PJs 4385, total juniors 13169.
1977: Adults 35788, Juniors 6022, PJs 4365, total juniors 10387.
1978: Adults 38605, Juniors 5791, PJs 4441, total juniors 10232.
1979: Adults 38963, Juniors 5400, PJs 4344, total juniors 9744.
1980: Adults 38277, Juniors 5225, PJs 4303, total juniors 9528.
1981: Adults 39941, Juniors 5191, PJs 4496, total juniors 9687.
1982: Adults 41810, Juniors 4920, PJs 5196, total juniors 10116.
1983: Adults 42892, Juniors 4420, PJs 5480, total juniors 9890.
1984: Adults 43274, Juniors 4504, PJs 5995, total juniors 10499.
1985: Adults 44600, Juniors 4279, PJs 6082, total juniors 10361.

1986: Adults 44802, Juniors 4294.  This year's figures are as of May 31.  I don't have the PJ number but believe it was similar to 1985.  This was the final year of PJs. 

Can anyone viewing the above contend that PJs were anything but a horrendous failure?  Consider:
        1.  After 5 years of PJs, total junior membership was down 35.8% at a time when adult membership INCREASED 3.4%.  Even worse, the most promising juniors, those receiving Chess Life, were down a whopping 64.8%.
        2.  After 10 years of PJs, total junior membership was down 30.2%, while adult membership showed a big increase, up 21.1%!  Juniors receiving Chess Life were down 71.2%. 
        3.  The junior totals above are especially weak considering that scholastic activity continually increased during this period, as it has ever since the late 60s.  Junior membership should have increased faster than adult, as it has from 1992-2002 when membership with a publication was required.

Now we want to go back and re-experiment with PJs, renamed Economy Memberships? 
Doesn't USCF ever learn from its mistakes? 

The Adult Economy membership is no better, as very few tournament or club players will join for $39 who would not join for $49.  Players may drop out of rated chess because they prefer online play or because they lose interest, but very few will quit over $10.  This membership class, like the scholastic version, will consist almost entirely of players who would otherwise be full members.  Instead the federation is settling for a no-contact membership which surely decreases the chances of the player renewing, playing rated chess, or buying merchandise.  Once again this is nothing new, as non-magazine adult memberships, called "tournament memberships," were tried in the 1980s and given up as a failure in the early 1990s.

It's time to get rid of these "economy memberships" and not continue to "experiment" further with this thoroughly discredited concept!

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