Moshe Kam IEEE President
Appointment of Dr. Moshe Kam to Dean, Newark College of Engineering
3 April, 2014

ENGINEERING AS A LIBERAL ART: an address to the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit (The Debating Chamber, Scottish Parliament; Edinburgh, Scotland; 14 August 2012)
14 August, 2012

Comments during the dedication of an IEEE Milestone on the World’s First Reliable High Voltage Power Fuse, 1909 (3 August 2012, Chicago, IL, USA)
3 August, 2012

Comments at the Dedication of the IEEE Milestone Mainline Electrification of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1895 (21 June 2012, Baltimore, MD)
9 July, 2012

Comments at the installation of the Iota Lambda Chapter of Eta Kappa Nu at the University of Hong Kong (13 January 2012)
13 January, 2012

Comments at the Unveiling of the IEEE Milestone on the Apollo Guidance Computer, Cambridge, MA
13 December, 2011

Roger Pollard (1 June 1946 - 3 December 2011)
4 December, 2011

As 2011 draws to a close...
3 December, 2011

Member Letter – U.S. Hurricane Irene/Floods
10 September, 2011

Message to IEEE Volunteers and Members in Japan
14 March, 2011

It Is About Value (Not About Price)
11 February, 2011

A Small Miracle in Hyderabad
27 January, 2011

So you are traveling a lot, eh?
17 January, 2011

How Should We Proceed with IEEE’s Humanitarian Efforts?
1 January, 2011

IEEE and Haiti
20 January, 2010

A Most Impressive Quasquicentennial in Hyderabad
7 January, 2010

My New Year Resolution - Seeking Less Experienced Volunteers
2 January, 2010

Mail about IEEE Spectrum article - Powerless in Gaza
26 December, 2009

The list of new IEEE Fellows is out
15 December, 2009

In praise of three tough guys from Trinidad
25 November, 2009

Who will be the 50th President of IEEE?
23 November, 2009

Smart Grid and Standards Search - the Board of Directors approves new initiatives
22 November, 2009

Globalization and Music - a Visit to the IEEE France Section
12 November, 2009

Moshe Kam elected IEEE 2010 President-Elect
7 October, 2009


It Is About Value (Not About Price)

I received today yet another letter from a concerned volunteer who wrote at length about IEEE membership growth and offered good advice on how to support it. This volunteer, like many before him, believes strongly that the path of IEEE to more robust membership increases is through reducing fees and prices. He supported this thesis by quoting friends and acquaintances who promised to rejoin if IEEE just would not charge that much, and by musing about how great and bright life would be if we could only cut IEEE annual dues by, say, 25%.

I receive about one letter of this kind every week, and 20 or 25 years ago I could have written one myself. As a dedicated volunteer you ask those in your Section or Chapter, those who did not renew their membership (or were slow to renew it), what the impediment was. Many of them tell you immediately that IEEE membership just costs too much. The obvious conclusion is that if IEEE reduced its dues, we will have many more members. Next you go to the nearest keyboard and share this profound wisdom with the leadership of IEEE…

… Except that by and large this observation is wrong. Membership growth is not strongly tied to the level of dues, and even if we slashed our dues by a factor of 2, the impact of such a dramatic discount on our overall membership numbers would probably be very mild. Simply stated, for most IEEE members the annual dues (which are somewhat adjusted to income level and employment status) are not a major outlay. Those who elect to pay their dues, do so because they value their membership and because they feel that being part of this lively, large and diverse professional association is important to them. Those who elect not to pay the dues at, say, USD180 a year, are unlikely to be interested in us at USD90 a year, and most of them, I venture to guess, will not bother even if the price was halved again. Our membership size is relatively insensitive to the dues level.

We know that this is the case because we have experienced significant fluctuations in currency exchange rates over the last 20 years. Our membership dues are stated in US Dollars, and as the USD drifted against other currencies, sometimes quite dramatically, the real cost of IEEE membership drifted along. For many members, tens of thousands, the annual increases in nominal membership dues (in USD) were dwarfed or undone by what the exchange rates have wrought. For example, members in the Euro zone and in Canada have seen a real decrease in their dues (of some 40%) between 2001 and 2008. In other countries (Great Britain, Korea) the US dollar became much more expensive around 2009 with significant impact on the real cost of IEEE membership renewal there.

Here is the punch line, though.  It did not matter.  There is no evidence that these rather large real cost changes have had any effect on our membership numbers. We have not seen unusually large membership increases in countries were the dues became much lower due to fluctuations of the exchange rates.  We did not lose members in countries where there was a sizable increase in the real cost due to the exchange rates.  At the general level of our current dues, members seem to have been quite indifferent to the exact price tag.

There is a lot of additional evidence of this kind in our databases; sharp discounts that made no difference, and the occasional larger-than-usual dues increase that harmed membership for a year or two but was undetectable thereafter. The more one analyzes these data, the more it becomes evident that we do well when we offer interesting conferences, when we release important standards, when we energize the membership with new initiatives (think “IEEE Day”), and when we insist – year in and year out – on the highest achievable quality of our flagship publications and conferences. We do well when we create value for our members and for our community and when we excite the students and the Life Members. We do well when we start new activities on the Smart Grid and Biorobots. We never do well just by selling our products on the cheap.

I am fully aware of the need to make IEEE membership, services and products affordable in developing countries, where our nominal fees are too high for working professionals. We have taken important steps toward this goal by introducing low-cost IEEE membership in developing countries last year. Moreover, we are – and will continue to be – careful to set our prices and dues everywhere at a reasonable level that meets our costs and is affordable by our target audience. However, to grow our membership and to overtake the competition, our strategy will be to provide better value and develop higher-quality services. Not to manipulate prices.

Moshe Kam ( ) ECE Department, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
The opinions expressed on this website are the opinions of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the IEEE