The issue is really not one of whether $275 is beyond the reach of a struggling
designer. If investing in the ethics, standards, aspirations and understanding of the
profession you have chosen are not worth $275 to you or you cannot afford $275 a year
practicing this profession, the outcome should be the same: find a different profession, for
there is no future for you in this one.
It is the least expensive way for someone to gain the community, information sharing,
understanding and respect that designers who want to play can get. Can one get away without
joining and take full advantage of the benefits? Perhaps. Is that the reflection of the ethos or
integrity one wants in the leaders of the profession? Does that reflect well on you or any of
your colleagues? I think those who take this approach will always determine the limits of
their own influence, for they want to work outside the broader community and get what they
can for nothing, which ultimately is reflected in their broader professional dealings with
society and clients.
If you look closely at the expenses of a very small and newly-formed design studio, I am sure
there are expenses greater than this sum that do not contribute to your professional success.