The Martian is a major motion picture being released in October, 2015. It stars Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain, among other great actors in a stellar ensemble cast.

Before that, The Martian became a New York Times best-selling novel for first-time author Andy Weir.

And before that, The Martian was a self-published e-book on Amazon, listed at $0.99 because that is the lowest price Amazon allows authors to charge for their work. The funny thing is, at the same time the e-book was available on Amazon, it was also available FOR FREE on Andy Weir’s personal Web site. Free vs not free… you would think the free version would have been downloaded in bucketfuls, with the Amazon version languishing in obscurity.

That’s not what happened.

In actuality, the Amazon version of The Martian ended up being paid for and downloaded at a rate ten times higher than the free version of the same e-book.


Simple, actually: people just found it easier to get to the Amazon book. A simple search of “The Martian” and a couple of clicks led to Amazon, who in turn made it very easy to pay for and get the e-book. The value of ease of access and ease of acquisition swamped out the $0.99 cost of the e-book. This most likely would have been the case had the e-book been $1.99, or even $2.99.

As I thought about this story, the lessons for membership-based organizations were not lost on me.

Members, like anyone else, value their time and guard it jealously. In particular, members interact with online properties – from news organizations, shopping sites, and your association – with a very small window of patience, and they expect information to appear on their mobile devices, laptops, and desktops with just a few clicks or swipes. If the cost of access and acquisition for information is too high, members will eschew even seemingly high-value items that are offered at no cost to them (other than the cost of their time).

Before the online world crept into every corner of our existence, there were real barriers to an association communicating with members. Now, however, many of those barriers have fallen to the ubiquity of social media, Web sites, mobile texting, and a host of other online technologies that should be powerful enablers for associations to connect with membership.

Every association with an online strategy (you do have an online strategy, right?) should hold up a mirror to their computer screens and take a hard look at how well they’re removing barriers and making information accessible and easily acquired for members. OK, forget the mirror thing, because all you’ll see is reversed text and need more Advil than usual, but you CAN do some of the following:

  • User test your existing Web sites to ensure layout and navigation are helping members find information, not hindering them;
  • Check to see how well your Web sites perform on mobile devices — for example, do your dropdown menus require hovering a mouse cursor over them? Well, there is no way to hover on an iPhone…
  • Combine great content and value-added for members with a budget-friendly inbound marketing strategy;
  • Use sponsored posts or tweets to zero out the cost of information acquisition for members and prospective members on social media (you know that Facebook only shows about 10% of your organic posts on fan timelines, right?);
  • Take advantage of the massive reach and popularity of short format online videos;

Start with the easy stuff (maybe write shorter home page copy and enlarge your Web type size), but your association will reap multiple, manifold benefits with members if you take a cue from The Martian and zero out the cost of finding and acquiring information online.