Saturday, June 26, 2004

11:27:00 AM EDT

Chess Life


My views on Chess Life tend to overlap those already written by current USCF Executive Board member Tim Hanke. Specifically my perspective is in the following five areas stated below:


Eliminate time-value material


Because the magazine arrives in people’s mailboxes months after event reported on occurs, we should move all time-value material to the website or to a separate Tournament Life magazine/newsletter. If the website or separate Tournament Life magazine/newsletter were properly used, Chess Life would no longer publish interviews with players who win the Under-1600 section, photos of children standing next to trophies bigger than they are, or information on local events. Chess Life would develop more enduring features than Jerry Hanken style tournament reports. All this stuff would be in a place where all such items of passing interest belong.


Content must be of lasting value


The magazine should only contain material that will be of value to Americans today, one year from now, and ten years from now. We should make the magazine visually beautiful. The layout and design need radical overhaul to make Chess Life a timeless, classic, beautiful publication. However, a more attractive layout with enhanced graphics as well as powerful photos without improved content is like dressing a pig on a farm in a silk dress. Most will not be fooled. No matter how you dress it, everyone knows a pig still smells like a pig. Thus the focus must be on superior content, features, and columns that can only come from world renowned Grandmasters and chess champions, rather than USCF insiders. If Chess Life was a quality magazine with quality content we may be able to attract quality advertisers. In this regard, New in Chess sets a standard in presentation and content that Chess Life may wish to emulate.


Spread the good news


The USCF is a nonprofit social welfare organization. It is supposed to accomplish its mission by impacting the lives of others in a way that furthers the common good and general welfare of the people of the community. As a house organ Chess Life need not try to have material that would be of specific interest to subgroups of hard core players but needs some human betterment materials that can be of value to all chess players and those who want to help chess become a greater part of American recreation and society. Chess life can tell the story to USCF members as well as to newsstand readers about what it has done that is beneficial with the members dues money and why it is meaningful to support the organization. In this way Chess Life can differentiate itself from its competition. Publications that cater to various chess specialties should be encouraged and referenced rather than duplicated.


Decouple from regular membership benefits


Hard core players may only want Tournament Life information and the more casual player may not care for such information. Therefore let USCF members pay a lower fee for membership if they choose not to receive Tournament Life information and consider letting USCF members pay a lower fee for membership if they choose not to receive Chess Life magazine. The USCF should move to online electronic membership voting to properly decouple Chess Life. If the dues drop by the cost to produce Chess Life itself any revenue loss would offset by the cost. Let’s say basic regular membership is $25-$30, Chess Life could be an additional $20-$25, and Tournament Life is an additional $10-$15. If we use a Junior/Scholastic membership without voting rights the basic membership could be around $25-$30 with a built in School Mates subscription. If the publications are no longer part of the regular membership benefit this would be applied to all associated classes of membership.


Survey the readership


Two key concepts underlying Six Sigma are a focus on the customer and a fact based management style. Accordingly, the best way to discover what the readership values most is to ask them. Too often board members or the publications director unilaterally decides what is best for the USCF readership. This lack of market analysis makes about as much sense in the non-profit world as it does in the for-profit world. If one's primary focus is on the readership than you ask or confirm with that readership what you should do on their behalf. The greatest defect is failing to deliver what the readership wants. Ultimately to be successful Chess Life must align itself to the wishes of its readers and owners – the dues paying membership.