Not Over the Hump Yet

May 2010

As most readers know, since last November we have been trying to raise $165,000 to restore order to our financial house and prepare for the inevitable losses we will suffer this year publishing an independent Catholic magazine. We are pleased to report that, to date, we have raised $122,975. We have been heartened — yes, humbled — by our readers’ outpouring of generosity in response to our plea. We heartily thank each of you who has helped sustain our apostolate in these difficult times. Still, we are more than $40,000 away from reaching our fundraising goal. We’re not yet over the hump.

The act of begging for funds to continue our operation is not one we relish. In an ideal world, the discussion of ideas, and analysis of current events, from an orthodox Catholic perspective that the NOR provides would be a big draw among the general public. Not so: It is a struggle simply to attract the attention of committed Catholics. Alas, ours is not an ideal world — not even close. For the reasons spelled out in our November 2009 editorial, “How Many Victims Will the Revolution Claim?” we small Catholic publishers are riding the razor’s edge of financial ruin.

In that editorial, in addition to our own struggles, we examined those of several of our colleagues and the measures they’ve taken to attempt to ride out the rough road ahead. We wish each of them success. It comes as no surprise that additional publishers have sounded the alarm about their own difficulties in this crisis. Our friends at Homiletic & Pastoral Review, for example, are instituting a series of changes to their operation. In January, Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J., announced that he is being replaced as editor by another Jesuit, Fr. David Vincent Meconi. Thus ends Fr. Baker’s remarkable forty-year run at the helm of HPR, during which he steadily guided the magazine through a period of intense turmoil and confusion in the Church, never wavering in his insistence upon orthodoxy. Fr. Meconi’s name should ring a bell among longtime readers of the NOR: He has written several superb articles and book reviews for us over the years.

For those keeping score at home, this represents, by our count, the eighth change in editorship at a Catholic publication over the past couple years. The others, in addition to HPR and the NOR, include The Latin Mass, Our Sunday Visitor, National Catholic Reporter, National Catholic Register, Touchstone, and First Things — the last two aren’t Catholic magazines, but do have a number of Catholics on their editorial staffs. A handful of these publications — the NOR, HPR, Our Sunday Visitor, and First Things — has “gone young,” meaning that there’s been an infusion of new blood into the old media.

In addition to the change at the top, HPR is raising its subscription price from $26 per year to $34: more than a thirty-percent jump. This increase was necessary, Fr. Baker explained, because Ignatius Press, the publisher of HPR, lost $100,000 last year alone to keep HPR going. But “even that is not enough to solve the problem,” wrote Fr. Baker, who also asks readers to send in donations. Ignatius Press is a successful, well-run apostolate that continues to release a steady stream of outstanding books; but even that doesn’t prevent it from experiencing the losses accrued from publishing a Catholic magazine, losses which, as mentioned above and in our November editorial, are inevitable and universal, and which have become increasingly burdensome, even crippling.

We do not exaggerate: A spunky startup Catholic magazine that began in 2004 with a surge of promise and optimism, Catholic Men’s Quarterly, announced this January that financial circumstances have forced it to suspend operations until and unless a buyer is found. This is a sad development in the fraternity of Catholic publishers. The Church is not served by the loss of faithful voices, especially in a culture like ours that is saturated with white noise.

But that’s not all: Last year the Legion of Christ’s newspaper National Catholic Register announced that it was reducing its number of summer issues, going from a weekly to a biweekly production schedule during that typically slow season. It turns out that this was merely a test-run for what will be a permanent, year-round cutback. The mighty Register, whose renewal rates are “among the highest in the entire newspaper industry,” according to current editor Fr. Owen Kearns, has cut its production by a whopping fifty percent. Meanwhile, it has undertaken a massive fundraising campaign, hoping to bring in a staggering $1.1 million by the end of its fiscal year. There was a time, “not so long ago,” Fr. Kearns admits, “when we didn’t need to fundraise.” (Probably before the cover was blown off Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel’s debauched lifestyle.) “Those days are gone and probably won’t be back.” Welcome to the real world of Catholic publishing.

As part of its restructure, the Register has been shifting news content to its revamped website, leaving news analysis to the biweekly print edition. Strangely, Fr. Kearns calls this a “significant improvement.” Websites, though necessary in today’s publishing milieu, aren’t moneymakers; rather, they drain precious financial resources. According to analysis by Bob Zyskowski in The Catholic Journalist, the (print!) publication of the Catholic Press Association (Feb.), “Most of the Catholic press…is still searching for the monetary key that will make our online efforts pay for themselves…. Earning sufficient revenue from Web advertising is a hope, not yet a reality.”

The Register isn’t alone in seeking sustenance by “plugging in.” This winter, The Latin Mass magazine, a quarterly published by our friends at Keep the Faith, likewise embarked on a campaign to raise funds to upgrade its web presence. Other publications have followed suit, including The Wanderer and Catholic World Report.

What does all this mean for the NOR? We passed through the website-upgrade stage nearly five years ago, and we’re glad we did it then, before our survival depended on it. We realized then that websites, though they can increase a publication’s profile, don’t guarantee future viability. As the print field narrows, the online field is widening at an exponential rate. Good luck standing out on the overcrowded information highway: Everybody and his brother has a blog, often with devoted followers. News outlets abound. People expect content for free. Catering to this latter concept, in our opinion, was the fatal flaw of the major secular dailies that went online in the early days of the Internet and which are now scrambling merely to survive. Why would one pay for what one can get for free?

Our website, www.newoxfordreview.org, was based on a unique, innovative pay structure, and has become a model others have followed. Still, our experience confirms Zyskowski’s observation: Websites don’t make money. Heck, print publications don’t make money either. If you’re looking to do well while doing good, you’d do well to look elsewhere.

The best a Catholic publication can hope for is to break even. Even that isn’t usually possible. Which is why we’ve had to resort to begging — yet again. With a continued response from our readers to our own modest fundraising effort, we should be able to stay afloat for another year and not succumb to the grinding financial pressures we face. We’ve already instituted a number of measures to help keep our financial house in order, as outlined in our November editorial, including taking voluntary pay cuts, consolidating office space, and reluctantly submitting to a small reduction from eleven to ten issues per year (hence the combined January-February issue). The pressing question is: Will it be enough?

If the past is any indicator, it won’t be. Every publication’s plea for support touches on the same theme: the skyrocketing cost of production — paper stock, printing costs, postage, etc. — and plummeting revenues. Although we have postponed it as long as possible — and have agonized over it in print — raising our subscription rates has, of necessity, become a serious consideration. If things don’t turn around quickly, a rate increase is, unfortunately, inevitable. Why? New subscribers are counted on to replace subscribers who choose not to renew. The number of those who do not renew is steadily increasing as readers tighten their belts. Fr. Kearns hit on a frustrating quandary: “Nearly every print-based media outlet is facing challenges when it comes to attracting new subscribers.” The cause, as we discussed in our November editorial, is due to a unique confluence of economic, technological, and cultural factors that has made reading material a “discretionary” item. Apart from the impact on the print media, this phenomenon has distressing implications for the life of the mind in America.

But we’re not going to give in without a fight. With a plan and a lot of prayer, we will try to buck the trend. We have decided not to wait until we reach our fundraising goal before swinging into action. Soon, you might again see our retooled trademark ads popping up in various friendly print publications. Though our early advertising trials have so far yielded meager results, we have faith that repeat efforts will deliver greater returns.

You might also inadvertently receive a direct-mail packet asking you to subscribe to the NOR. If you do, don’t worry: it doesn’t mean that your subscription has expired. Yes, soliciting our own subscribers is another money drain, but, due to the vagaries of direct mail, it is impossible to avoid entirely. If you do happen to receive our package, please pass it along to someone you know who might be interested in subscribing to the NOR. Word-of-mouth recommendations mean a great deal. Or use it to extend your own subscription.

While the fate of our latest advertising push hangs in the balance, we would like to mention two effective ways to make a substantial, long-term commitment to the financial security of the NOR: charitable annuities and “whole life” life insurance policies. A charitable annuity can provide a donor with a guaranteed income for life, and both of these programs can potentially provide a donor with additional IRS-approved tax advantages.

NOR supporters who are interested in exploring these charitable-giving options are encouraged to contact the NOR offices by phone at 510-526-5374 or by writing to us at 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706.

Although the danger signs ahead are daunting, we are undeterred. Indeed, we have cause for optimism. In our November editorial we pointed to the positive developments on the editorial front, in particular the growth of our family of writers. Since then, we have reintroduced a few more old familiar names from years past, including Edmund B. Miller (Jan.-Feb.) and Jesuit Fr. Raymond T. Gawronski (Apr.). In addition, we have introduced some new familiar names, including Human Life International President and trained exorcist Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer (whose Líbera Nos a Malo column miniseries continues in this issue, and who has graciously agreed to come aboard as a Contributing Editor of the NOR), Gail Besse (Jan.-Feb.), Douglass H. Bartley (Jan.-Feb. and this issue), Thomas P. Scheck (Apr.), Mary Rosera Joyce (this issue), and many others. And we plan to bring you yet more of the best writers in orthodox Catholic journalism as the year unfolds, including our coterie of regular and occasional contributors who have given the NOR its reputation as “Catholicism’s intellectual prizefighter,” as Karl Keating, president of Catholic Answers, has famously said.

In the meantime, we are still $42,025 short of reaching our fundraising goal. The summit is in view, but we need your help to push us over the top. Donations to the NOR are, happily, tax deductible. The NOR is a nonprofit religious organization and has 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service. Please mail your donation to: New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706. Checks and money orders may be made payable to: New Oxford Review. We also accept VISA, MasterCard, and Discover credit-card donations at our website, www.newoxfordreview.org, as well as by mail (at the above address) and by telephone (510-526-5374).

Make a donation today online!

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