In September, I outlined several significant challenges for our hobby and the APS, which I reiterated in a December column in The American Philatelist:
- The changing nature of the marketplace. As more collectors buy online, the APS should work to protect their interests. Our Code of Ethics has served the hobby well for more than 136 years, but we have to extend its reach to all channels of the philatelic marketplace.
- The changing nature of organized philately. We have a maze of organizations, some doing well and others challenged by declining membership. We have to ask whether those organizations can still serve the larger collecting community or if they exist out of tradition.
- Our aging pool of dealers and experts. We are fortunate to have knowledgeable philatelists who help sort through fakes and forgeries and serve to educate future generations. The reality is that time comes for us all, and dealers and experts are no exception. We should ensure that knowledge and preserve expertise for future generations.
There are several ways to meet these challenges. The proposed merger with the American Stamp Dealers Association sparked a conversation that’s been long overdue. A merger presents both risks and opportunities for the APS and collectors. However, it is not worth pursuing if the risks outweigh the possibilities. After gathering more information on the ASDA, soliciting feedback from APS members, evaluating all options to achieve our challenges, and performing due diligence with the ASDA, I have outlined a plan for the APS Board of Directors.
The APS/ASDA merger is not our best option to move forward. Looking at the risks and opportunities of a merger, the scale tilts toward the risk side. We’ve spent years getting the APS and APRL fiscal house in order, and a merger with the ASDA will not further what we’ve accomplished.
We should live by the credo of the U.S. Army, “Mission First, People Always.” We will meet our mission if we take care of collectors. In our most recent member survey, 43 percent of members supported a merger, while 22 percent opposed the merger. We should not ignore the concerns of those who oppose the merger by rushing ahead. Doing so takes the focus off the critical challenges we face in this hobby and only kicks the can further down the road.
The APS already has a dealer member program, with hundreds of APS members registered as dealers and a Dealer Advisory Council established by the APS Board in 2016. Both programs should be more effective in serving collectors and dealers.
We found consensus, with 85 percent of members responding agree dealers and collectors should work together to create more ethical practices in the hobby. With that, I will present a plan to the APS Board of Directors at our Spring Board Meeting in St. Louis on March 23, 2023, to address these issues. Specifically, a reconstituted Dealer Advisory Council, appointed by the APS President and confirmed by the APS Board. With the resolution, the group will work with APS leadership to refine the dealer member program to:
- Establish clear professional standards,
- Improve dealer benefits, and
- Recommend programs to train future experts.
Through this revised council, we will also build a coalition of online sellers and identify best practices to allow collectors to buy with confidence online.
We are fortunate to have three professional philatelists elected to the APS and APRL boards, Matt Kewriga, Michael Cortese, and Charles Epting. They have already stepped up to participate in this critical discussion. I thank them for their leadership and look forward to working with them.
This proposal is the best option to meet today’s challenges in the hobby. Our collecting community and organized philately have work to do, and it’s time to start doing it.
Member Survey, Member Services, and You
In December, the American Philatelic Society sent the first in a series of surveys to improve our services to members. The initial poll touched on several topics, and in my next column, I will share the survey's full results.
In our first survey, we asked some broad questions about our member services to understand better how APS members were accessing those services. Our next series of surveys will dig deeper into each service to look at the positives and negatives of each service and what we can do to increase the value of your membership. We received more than 5,000 responses to our first survey, so thanks to each of you for participating.
The percentage of members using our services is worth comparison and discussion. We’ve researched this subject over the years. I won’t discuss The American Philatelist. Utilization of the journal remains above 98 percent.
Circuit Sales: The APS Circuit Sales program is one of our oldest and longest-serving programs. Starting as the exchange program, members can buy or sell stamps through sales books on circuits, going from member to member. In our most recent survey, 19 percent of members use the service today. Historically, that’s consistent with past surveys predating the technology age. In 1982, 22 percent of members participated in the program; by 1996, 19 percent of APS members were still receiving and submitting stamp books. We have more questions about how to increase participation, both for buyers and sellers. For the rest of our members, I encourage you to learn more about the circuit program. It’s an affordable way to build country collections from fellow APS members. For more information, go to: https://stamps.org/services/buy-and-sell.
American Philatelic Expertizing Service (APEX): Over the past three years, we’ve received some of the greatest numbers of requests for expertizing in more than a decade. If you’re buying online or from an unknown source, APEX provides guaranteed opinions in 90 days or less. In our most recent survey, 23 percent of APS members use APEX as part of their membership package. By comparison, only 3 percent of members used APEX in 1982, and 6 percent used APEX in 1996. APEX has been around since 1903 and continues to meet the needs of APS members. We’re proud to see higher program utilization, but we’d like to invite members to try the service. For more information, go to: https://stamps.org/services/stamp-authentication.
American Philatelic Research Library (APRL): In our most recent survey, 32 percent of members use the research library. That is a vast improvement over historical surveys, such as 5 percent in 1982 and 7 percent in 1996. As we provide more online resources, such as the David Straight Memorial Philatelic Union Catalog and the Robert A. Mason Digital Library, more APS members can access the library’s value no matter where they are in the world. We continue to add to those digital resources and ask you to visit our library virtually or in person this year.
Two services that did not exist back in the 1990s are internet sales and our online education platform, C3a. In our recent survey, 31 percent of members have used internet sales. With our HipStamp partnership, we will ask more questions about members using online stamp sales and how we can help. Only 14 percent of members have tried out C3a, and we’ll be looking to get more information on how we can grow the use of the learning platform for members and beginners.
We will get into more details about the member survey in March, but we always welcome your thoughts and suggestions. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly at [email protected] or by mail, and I will respond.