I’m conflicted. Last year, the IPCPR decided to try out having a membership level for members of the internet media, such as myself. They published a fairly stringent series of guidelines, had an application process, as well as a fee that was fair in comparison to the other levels of membership that they offer. I mailed in my application along with my check, and felt honored to have passed their vetting process. I attended the trade show, which certainly cost me quite a bit out of my own pocket to fly to Vegas, eat and get a room.
If I may digress a moment and offer some disclosures: I do this for the love of cigars. I have a full time job in an unrelated industry. I have a part time job that I use to fund my blog and cigar adventures. I spend several hours a week on my blog, and a good bit of money on hosting my site and related expenses. CigarCriag.com operates in the red. I’m not complaining, I defy you to introduce me to a cigar blogger who is making money from this. The advertisements I do have are a flat rate and not tied to traffic, although I’m sure my advertisers want to see that I have a readership. I’m not saying there aren’t side benefits, and not trying to be altruistic, just saying that I’m not in this for the money. I do it to promote an industry that I find interesting and truly enjoy. All that being said, it recently came to my attention that the IPCPR increased their membership fee for the Internet Media (basically doubled) to the same level as the retail, distributor, broker, etc. while maintaining the level of benefits (less than half) of last years.
Without getting into specifics, the other levels of membership get two passes to the show and access to the Tobacconist University certification. Media members get one pass to the show and would have to pay for a Tobacconist U. course if they so desired. Media members are expressly forbidden to ask for samples. If I want to be really petty, retailers get lunch at the show, media members don’t. Bottom line, a media membership enjoys less than half that of the other memberships at the same cost. Bill Spann, the CEO of the IPCPR, was kind enough to give me a call this week to explain the reasoning, which I appreciate. He said that this was in response to the membership (retailers, manufacturers, etc.). They want to eliminate the “trick or treat” that has gone on in the past with consumers and, I guess, some bloggers, as well as reduce the distraction of interviews going on during the show. These are issues I fully understand and appreciate.
Here’s my take, and I have been known to be cynical. I can certainly see that the venders are there to sell to the retailers, the retailers are there to buy from the venders, and this is not a consumer show. I get that. I also think that maybe the professional media, the magazines both on and off-line, may see little guys like me as some sort of competition. Bill Spann himself made the point that the annual membership fee is a drop in the bucket to those guys, whereas for me, it represents nearly half of my blog’s annual “income”. As an independent blogger, I feel as if I support the industry, provide basically free publicity, and in the worst case, offer my opinions of how things could be better. Allow me to make a comparison: Currently 47 states have taxes on cigars that are, ostensibly, meant to discourage the use of those products. Is the IPCPR taxing me in an effort to discourage me from attending the show? Bill said that it was the membership that requested this. Nobody asked my opinion. Am I not a member? I feel honored and validated being a member, but I’m also feeling some resentment. They will happily accept my money, but really don’t want me as a member. The IPCPR does great things to protect our rights to enjoy cigars, and I do my best to support them with my wallet as well as my time and voice. I really don’t know how much longer I can afford to pay top dollar to be a member of an organization that doesn’t want me around.
I’m going to ask my readers, my “membership” if you will:
Do you think I'm justified in my feelings about the IPCPR's Internet Media Policy?
- Yes (82%, 82 Votes)
- No (18%, 18 Votes)
Total Voters: 100
I invite you to leave your thoughts in the comments, I know that Mr. Spann as well as others in the industry read this and I’m sure they are interested it your thoughts.
Until the next time,