AOS Decline

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Well-Known Member
Jan 4, 2007
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I wonder if you all might help me. A quick search of ST did not find a recent thread on this topic; if there is one I'm not aware of a link would be great. At our annual AOS judging business meeting, we heard that the AOS currently has about 8600 members, down from a peak of 30000 members in the 1990s, and the same number as it had in 1960-something. Between these membership issues, the move to Fairchild, and recent issues on the board, I see an organization in trouble. I wonder why that is. As a fairly young accredited judge (I am 32), particularly one interested in history of paphs and awards to them, I have a real interest in seeing the AOS continue to be an organization that provides important services to its members and continues to judge flowers. So that we're all above board, my actual name is Tim Culbertson, and I'm a judge in the Northeast center, and I used to be in the Pacific Central center. Would you be willing to answer a question? Here's how you can help:

1. If you are a member of the AOS, why are you a member?

2. If you are not a member of the AOS, what could I suggest to the AOS that might help change your mind?

I'm not involved in the AOS Board, and I'm not a trustee. I have two little boys and very little time to be physically involved in the running of much of anything. Likewise I have no idea how much all the various things like awards and the magazine actually cost to produce. I know all those things are expensive, and I'm not sure they can be changed. What I am is young, in the organization, and loud, so maybe I could help. I guess I was thinking more along the lines of improvements in customer-service. Some suggestions I have include stuff like: be more friendly; digitize articles from the old AOS Bulletin and make them available online for free (sell advertising space); make an online version of AQ (or AQPlus or OrchidsPlus or whatever) that is fast and works on apple and specifically tablet OS and is free; have judgings be during weekends or times where people don't have to take time off work to attend...

Any suggestions would be great, either here or PM if you're more comfortable with that.

If you are a young person, you are in the demographic that is the most difficult to attract to a society, even a non-meeting based, "virtual" one like the AOS, so I would be most pleased to hear from you.

Sorry for the long post, and thanks for your help. I will actually take ideas to the AOS.
so i can register awards...i suspect the internet is the main culprit in a dwindling membership..IMO, the only real offer the AOS can make that is an incentive for membership is award registration..any information that a person wants to find on orchids is available on the internet..complete with millions of pictures and videos..i dont see how the AOS could provide any incentive for people not registering awards to pay for membership
As a former student judge in the AOS system I believe there are numerous problems that have led to the decline of the AOS. One of the concerns that many orchid enthusiasts that bring in plants for judging is that they are getting tired of seeing the judges award each others plants. Sure, I know that the judges will bring in plants that they know are awardable, they know what to look for. The average orchid society member that comes to shows, displays plants, and tirelessly volunteers thier time are the ones who the AOS needs to take care of. Judges need to recognize that they are the ones who are providing a service and should be appreciative that they have the priveledge to do so. Without the general public bringing in plants to judge they would be gone.
I have been a member for most of the past 30 years. I did drop my membership a few years ago when it appeared as though the AOS was becoming the Florida Social Society, but re-joined to keep the cost of awards down. When I re-joined, I did a 2 year deal to get the discount coupon. When I tried to use it to buy some paphs, I was told the grower's paphs were already discounted. It did not seem that way from his prices. Anyway, I try to ignore the AOS at the national level and just focus on the people at the local level. The closest Judging Center is in Cincinnati and the judges there are excellent people. As individuals, they may win more awards than the rest of us, but to be honest, they are better growers. We have a cluster of societies in the area and we all suport one another. Our society is healthy and growing. In my opinion the AOS needs to focus on judging and awards. The magazine will need to be online only, and maybe just 6 times a year. Let everything else go and cut to the bone. Mike
Living in the hinterlands, the AOS' presence comes mainly in the form of the magazine and judging once a year at the St. Paul Winter Carnival Orchid Show.

Being a small orchid business, now, I continue to support the AOS and local societies as another way to connect to one part of my potential customer base, to keep current on happenings in the orchid world, and to support the judging system.

However, with the rise of the internet and its "free" content, combined with the escalating cost of producing a quality magazine, I think many former members, whose only connection with the society was the magazine, dropped their membership (subscriptions) just like they have dropped subscriptions to Newsweek, or Time, or their local newspaper.
I am an AOS member, but didn't join until after getting a plant awarded. The discount for the awards for members was the incentive at that time).

I got into orchids for the "science" of it, rather than the social aspects of the local society or show aspects. At the time I was more impressed with the academic quality of Orchid Digest rather than the heavy commercial and society flavor of Orchids (about 10 years ago).

I now subscribe to both, and I have seen a change in Orchids to have an increased focus on the science/culture aspects of the orchid hobby over the years.

In general I see a decline over the last 10 years in interest in the orchid hobby. I don't think its all the fault of the AOS, and I think there a multiple demographic factors contributing that they have no control over.

We have discussed this before on ST more than once.

I would really use a free access to AQ. I would even pay a bit more in membership fee for this.
As a hobbyist the cost of joining just doesn't seem to be worth it. I'm not all that impressed with the magazine, I haven't been in a position to win awards and I have no plans to become a part of the judges training any time soon. I rather put my money towards good monographs, I rely on solid resources on the web and my local society puts me in touch with knowledgeable people in the industry. I just don't think the AOS offers enough for the hobby grower.
I am not an AOS member, back in the 80's I did belong. I could hardly wait each month for The AOS Bulletin to arrive, yes the articles could be very interesting, especially when they pertained to paphs. As been mentioned, I get more info right here at this forum than I could ever get with any subscription. Then there was all the advertising and the monthly deals so many companies would offer. There's very little advertising any more. When the economy took a nose dive, everyone seems affected. When an orchid addict considers the cost of a subscription, they'd rather spend that money on a plant these days, is my feeling. Yes the quality of Orchids is very good, the photos are fantastic but I don't think that's enough. There's sometimes too much time spent on the computer so an online membership isn't even appealing to me.
Belonging to an OC, being on the board & the show chair, we don't feel we get much support from AOS. There's an 'annual' donation in addition to the membership amount, we buy their show award twice a year, we pay a table fee to have an AOS representative there and what do we get? We have a plant sales table at every show & there's always Orchids magazines bundled up for an attractive price of $12 or less.
If I had plants in bloom at the time of judging and they were awardable, then yes it would be a consideration to join. AOS judging in our area is on the 2nd Saturday each month, working a retail job that's a work day for me so unless I put in several weeks ahead to have off, chances are I'll be working. It would be nice to earn an award, but that's not the reason I'm an orchid addict.
I was a suscribing member of the AOS for many years. I suscribed as well to Orchid Review and Orchid Digest. I dropped every magazine in time when I realized the money could be better spent on quality orchids. With the Internet and this forum, you can learn a lot for free and won't bother piling up magazines with articles on orchids you don't grow anyway. And I don't care that much about awards. I'm in it for the pleasure, not for the awards, though Ill admit getting an award from time to time is gratifying, even when it's not an AOS award.
I have heard and read a good number of reasons why people had been dissatisfied with the AOS, with judging and other related things. I can relate some of them, and they don't necessarily reflect my opinions, just what i've heard.

Orchids used to be very big, in a very different way than many other plants and had sort of a mystique to them in the plant world and outside. Huge numbers of orchids have been discovered in the last certain long time period, many of them very unusual and flashy. To see orchids in flower was an amazement, and to own and grow one was quite a thing as many were very expensive or hard to find/get. There were many explorers searching them out, and big gardeners, highly financed business people and others striving to be part of the game, and have their name associated with them. Lots of science was being done on plant and orchid biology and reproduction, and many had lots of interest in what was going on because of the fascination of orchids in general. The AOS was there to collect, take part in and distribute the words and pictures of all of this; many subscribed to their magazine because this was one of the very few ways that a person could see, read about and find a place to buy an orchid, other than a garden center where there might be an extremely expensive plant they could buy. There was a sort of prestige associated with the AOS, because it was the pre-eminent source of new science, judging, awards and all with this vast collection of orchid news and information. To have an AOS award was a very special thing. To have access to this growing knowledge base and awards database you needed to have membership.

Over time, there have been lots of developments making it easier to see pictures of, articles about and research done about orchids, and there are many available orchids and places to get them. It is still relatively easy to find a place to buy them if you look on the internet, and there are trillions of pictures available on the internet. At one time there were many orchid societies who were affiliated with the AOS so that they could have their orchids judged in shows, and it was necessary for part of the club or at least one or two to be members of the AOS so that they could uphold their affiliation. Without a club membership in the AOS, they couldn't have a judged show (at least a formally judged one with AOS awards). Many books have also been printed about many thing orchid-related, and many orchid societies have these books/pictures in their closet (so to speak; literally for the CNYOS). Also, there relatively aren't as many orchids being discovered, though kovachii and a few others show that there are still orchids out there, but there also isn't the large amount of science being done on orchid biology and reproduction, data that can be presented in articles in the AOS magazine. There is some growing interest in north american native orchids, which have taken a back seat to the more flashy tropical orchids until recently. Articles about natives have drawn more interest, and there are places where the public can view these treasures. Time will tell if a balance can be found where increasing knowledge, interest and curiosity can be developed without damaging places where these orchids live

So, lots of access to amazing thing orchid-wise from many avenues, not necessarily associated with the AOS. Many people like to be part of organizations, and support their activities. One unfortunate thing that happened was that the AOS bought or built a huge facility sort of like a museum, botanical garden and library with the funds they had. It's upkeep/construction ended up costing much more than expected, or much more than members wanted to support. Before this, they had a small office center and lived more modestly. The economy started going bad, and people either didn't want to support this huge financial drain or couldn't afford the rising memberships. Others were disgusted with the disproportionate focus on the mausoleum (as they called it) in florida, which only served to support a few local people. It didn't have the draw like say disneyland might have, so though on paper it may have seemed like a great idea, it didn't realize it's possible potential. Many members spoke out, but were either ignored or turned away. Many left because of this.

I became an AOS member back in the '80's, and continued for a few years until I became an orchid society member. I could look at the journals at meetings. The AOS magazine was an amazing source of pictures, information, science, plant culture and most importantly a place to find Orchid Vendors! No internet, and the magazine was where you had to look to find either ads, or a list of vendors who were listed. Even now there are orchid vendors who are not on the internet, and it took then and now, scouring information sources to find that certain orchid you know you just have to have.

Another unfortunate thing that happened was that with the rise of orchids and the prestige involved, many vendors, judges and/or AOS officers became overly heady because of their involvement and association with the AOS and orchids in general. This does always turn people off, in general. There was at one point a sense to members that the officership had no interest in what they thought or needed, and the forum on the new internet often would turn away dissension from being posted on their forum. This information is directly from many former or present members, and isn't hearsay. Again, this disenchants people, and if the cost to be a member gets to be pretty high, then many of those people don't see a reason to stay members.

Also, there has been a perception in some areas that the judging system supports only other judges, vendors or specific species that certain judges know well and ignore other species/genera that aren't well-known; this could very well be the case, and understanding human nature and that people are people and we are all flawed, and at times people can be very self-serving, probably is partly true. It is true, however that we all think that 'our' orchids are better than others, and may not understand why they don't win awards, and perceive that they are being unfairly treated. I am sure that reality is a mix of some unfairness and overly high expectations.

I do have to point out, that in recent history I have met and worked with a large number of AOS judges who are from the northeast, eastern canada and other nearby areas, and a very high percentage of them have been very nice people who love what they do, and are very interested in involving local club members in learning about judging and creating interest in having any of them become judges if they had the time to develop an interest in this. No judges get paid, and their travel and lodging expenses, if not subsidized by the society they are visiting, they pay for it all themselves. Also they pay for any research material they have to collect in the time period they are becoming student, probationary and then later on fully accredited AOS judges. This isn't a full-time job; most have full-time jobs and love orchids, and do enjoy working with the club members where they visit. We in upstate ny rarely have (or at least when I lived up there since I just moved south) had any lack of interest when we ask judges to come to our shows, because our members are usually very nice and the judges appreciate our hospitality.

One disadvantage that the AOS has in getting computer things done, or at least was an issue in the past, is that the AOS is an all-volunteer organization. For anything to get done it either must be farmed out to individuals who have the time and expertise to do such a thing, or they have to come up with the funds to make software and then update it constantly. If volunteer time isn't available to do things, then there must be money, and that takes members or donors.

I think there have been moves recently by officers and the selling of the AOS orchid museum that will make it easier to reach out to and retain members, they will just have to be as outwardly friendly and accessible to members who have chosen to be part of the organization. There are still orchid fanatics, the AOS just has to find the best most efficient way to bring them on board. I doubt any club will have the membership they once had, but if the AOS can find a way to create a large, virtual landing pad of every kind of orchid information and pictures etc.

The AOS will have to become lean and mean, if they want to lower membership or have the resources to create and develop internet resources. Also, people interested in orchids also need to develop interest in supporting their local societies, and also learn about becoming AOS judges. It would be a very interesting pursuit for someone who had a little time on their hands
I have been an AOS member for 20 odd years. I look forward to the magazines arrival each month. Being in South Africa there is very little other benifit to being a member other than the magazine. I have a problem accessing the AOS members section of the website, as I have forgotten my password, and after trying to remember the secret question/answer combo, the only option was to phone to get assistance in resetting the password (not a real option from overseas, so I gave up) I find myself having to seriously think about the cost to value ratio from overseas without being able to access the website properly and no real other benifits than the mag, so probably wont be renewing my membership when it expires.
Not sure why I belong anymore to tell you the truth.It was to get the discount on awards,but I only show a few plants a year when something I know is award quality.I have thrown my magazine away like junk mail for the past 6 issues.I did however recoup my 2 yr membership renewal price selling my previous issues at my OS meeting.The articles weren't much,I could do a Google search if I want to see the pretty pictures of Orchids.

I don't think I will be renewing once this membership one runs out.I don't buy many Orchids anymore.I am currently trying to thin down my collection down to around 200,or less.
I've been an AOS member for a dozen or so years, and have no plans at this time to cease my membership. I look at it as a way to support an organization that supports my addiction. I enjoy Orchids Magazine, even though not every article or edition is of interest to me. I also subscribe to Orchid Digest and am a member of the Slipper Alliance. Addicted.

The one thing I'd like AOS to do is to make AQ available to members through the internet, as part of being a member -- not for extra cost. I'd like it to be accessible through any computer, not just PC owners. It should be accessible not only to traditional computers, but also smart phones, iPads, etc.
I've been an AOS member for a dozen or so years, and have no plans at this time to cease my membership. I look at it as a way to support an organization that supports my addiction. I enjoy Orchids Magazine, even though not every article or edition is of interest to me. I also subscribe to Orchid Digest and am a member of the Slipper Alliance. Addicted.

The one thing I'd like AOS to do is to make AQ available to members through the internet, as part of being a member -- not for extra cost. I'd like it to be accessible through any computer, not just PC owners. It should be accessible not only to traditional computers, but also smart phones, iPads, etc.

The one thing I'd like AOS to do is to make AQ available to members through the internet, as part of being a member -- not for extra cost. I'd like it to be accessible through any computer, not just PC owners. It should be accessible not only to traditional computers, but also smart phones, iPads, etc.

I hope to encourage this not just for AQPlus but for AOS Bulletin back issues as well! I think the trick is to outsource this project to someone who is a professional...the data's all there - building the interface should be pretty straightforward and not too expensive. It is so irritating to not be able to browse AQ images on my ipad...
I hope to encourage this not just for AQPlus but for AOS Bulletin back issues as well! I think the trick is to outsource this project to someone who is a professional...the data's all there - building the interface should be pretty straightforward and not too expensive. It is so irritating to not be able to browse AQ images on my ipad...

Puffin used to be avaliable in the App store if your not jailboken yet,but Cydia had a lot of good add-ons that helps with that issue.
I was a member for over 30 years, until 2 years ago. In the 80's, it was an astounding magazine. I still rely on info I learned. And the ads! After A few years, I was making more money and could buy plants....great places...Stewarts, Bob Jones Mt. Madonna, even Norris Powell's Orchid house, whose great ads usualy ended up as mislabeled plants. But something changed in the 90's....the magazine got more strident, then fancier and glossier. In a post to the old OLD, I said I wasn't happy with the changes...which got me a less than friendly email response from someone at AOS. By the late 2000's, the magazine was irrelevant. I got more info from the internet, and most of my plants. But I hung on through loyalty. Finally, I decided why continue with a very expensive subscription, with issues I didn't look at for days, and rarely read. That was it...but overall, if it hadn't gotten so expensive I would have stayed.
Hi Eric.
I have been a member for about 4 years. Since I have been growing orchids for a while I am interested in getting into the judging program. I support the AOS because it provides a congregation of knowledge and helps establish a standard of judging orchids.
I was a member for a few years till the print versions of AQ were discontinued. I would like to pick up a book for a browse where ever & when ever rather than having to switch on the computer.
I'm not a member anymore. I was a for a year or two. The magazine was so-so.
I don't go for awards.
I have get far more use out of ST, than AOS.:)

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