Get Proactive or Perish

October 2012

It’s come down to this. We’ve arrived at the point where we must do something we’ve avoided doing for the past thirty years. There’s no pretty way to package it: Our situation is such that we must raise our subscription rates. Longtime readers of the NOR know that this is something we’ve agonized over for a number of years, something we’ve tried to postpone as long as possible. Yet it’s also something that, deep down, we’ve known was inevitable.

Recently, we were discussing the state of the publishing industry with a close friend and colleague, himself a publisher of a quality Catholic magazine. Naturally, the subject of finances came up, and he pointed out to us that we’re paying 2012 production costs, but we’ve still got “1980s prices.” That stopped us dead in our tracks. How much longer, we wondered, can we continue to absorb the annual increases in postage costs, printing costs, insurance premiums, material and technology costs, and the like, while suffering stagnant or, as is the case these days, diminishing income? The answer is not long.

That conversation occurred in the spring, before we entered into what is known in the industry as the dreaded “summer slowdown.” A funny thing happens in the summertime: When the sun shines the brightest, people read the least. It’s the time of year when the pleasures of the outdoor life draw our focus away from the printed page and toward the promise of physical recreation and refreshment, and new vistas to travel to and explore. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, of course — unless one makes one’s living producing pages of print. For such as us, summer is a time of preoccupation bordering on panic: Income evaporates, savings are depleted, and we bite our nails and bide our time until the normal business cycle resumes in the fall. For publishers, there’s precious little fun in the sun.

Thank God for the end of that merciless season. We’ve emerged from it acutely aware of just how dire our financial situation has become. To cover our operational budget — merely to make payroll — we’ve had to draw down our savings to frightfully low figures. In a word, we’re dangerously close to running on empty. It’s a situation that can’t continue.

Under normal circumstances, we’d do what we’ve always done: appeal to readers for donations. That’s something we’re still going to have to do but, to use a medical metaphor, regular doctor visits provide greater consistent benefits than the occasional shot in the arm. For long-term health, nothing beats preventive medicine. And that is what an increase in subscription rates will provide.

So, beginning in January 2013, our new pricing schedule will be as follows: one-year subscriptions will cost $24 (up from $19); two-year subscriptions will cost $43 (up from $35); three-year subscriptions will cost $59 (up from $48). We will continue to offer a discounted rate to students, retired persons, and the unemployed, a longstanding NOR tradition and one that remains unique in the publishing world, Catholic or otherwise. The new discounted rate will be $19 per year. And, as per longstanding custom, we will continue to offer reduced rates on multiple subscriptions and gift subscriptions — e.g., graduation and Christmas rates — as announced in the special notices that appear in the magazine at various times during the year. For non-U.S. subscriptions, the postage and handling costs will go from $10 per year to $12 per year. At our website, online-only subscriptions will rise slightly, from $25 to $29 for one year (with incremental increases for two- and three-year subscriptions), as will the cost to add an online subscription to a current print subscription, which will go from $10 per year to $14.

We realize that a rate increase is a tough sell in this economy. That’s why we’ve waited until it was absolutely necessary to do so. We came close to raising our rates in 2008-2009, during the worst years of the recession, but we held off in the hope that the crisis would be resolved in relatively short order. So we raised funds the old-fashioned way, and we breathed a sigh of relief when our goal was met. But we knew that the relief we received would carry us only so far into the future. Once we exhausted those funds, the residual momentum left us skidding into the summer of 2012. The financial crisis, we’re told, is behind us, but the alleged economic recovery has yet to trickle down to the nonprofit sector. We know we can’t sit around and wait for the invisible hand to hoist us to safety. The choice facing us is painfully clear: Take proactive measures or perish.

It is our hope that this modest increase in subscription rates won’t be offset by a drop in renewal rates. We realize that some readers will figure that the NOR simply isn’t worth another five bucks a year. (We hope they’re a small minority.) One loyal reader told us during our last fund drive to have confidence in what you offer. We do, but the last time we raised our rates, way back in 1985, we suffered a 30.2 percent drop in readership. We barely survived back then, and there’s no reason to believe we’d be able to withstand such a blow this time around. We’re banking on the hope that our readers do in fact value the NOR enough to pony up a tiny bit more for what we offer. And we believe that what the NOR offers is unique in the world of journalism. Where else can you get such a high level of engagement with ideas by orthodox Catholic scholars? What other Catholic journal is guaranteed to surprise and stimulate you, to both challenge and reassure you?

More than that, we believe that the NOR plays an indispensable role in the life of the Church in the twenty-first century. It’s not too hard to read the signs of the times. The Church is under attack from every corner: cultural, political, economic, spiritual. Even the federal government is landing body blows. Ours is a culture that really doesn’t take the Church seriously anymore. Her teachings are misunderstood by the majority without and disrespected by a great many within. Her leaders are struggling to find a coherent, unified voice; presuming they find clarity in thought and speech, they’re still going to have to confront the frenzied voices of opposition that are waiting to shout them down. Who listens to the voice of reason in a culture ruled by white noise?

The Church needs a forum for serious discussions of faith and culture, for the examination of ideas and trends. She needs an independent but faithful voice to help her articulate the enduring value of the timeless truths with which she has been entrusted. The NOR can do this effectively because we don’t have institutional concerns to contend with, the uncertainty that plagues leaders of the masses and stewards of their wealth. Frankly, we don’t have to worry about treading on others’ toes (though the virtue of charity restrains us from crushing phalanges just to prove a point). That's because there’s no fortune directing our discourse. We’ve rarely failed to mention over the years that the NOR isn’t beholden to any special-interest groups; we’re not shackled to any institutional sugar-daddy, whether ecclesial, collegiate, political, economic, or otherwise. When you pick up a copy of the NOR, you can rest assured in the knowledge that there’s no paid agenda behind any of the opinions published therein. We’re not required to analyze the Church or the world according to the whims of any power-broker or opinion-shaper; we’re free to call it as we see it.

But our freedom doesn’t come without costs. As mentioned numerous times in the past, we have no financial safety net. If this rate increase shreds the tightrope we walk, we’re finished. There’s nothing and nobody beneath us to break our fall. And there’s no chance the NOR can transform itself into an online-only operation; that would require a massive, sustained influx of capital that only an agenda-driven institution or foundation could provide. We’d rather see the NOR erased from the face of the earth than forfeit our vital independence — our integrity, our essence — and be forced to promote someone else’s ideas for money.

There are, moreover, future projects we’d like to implement in order to keep the NOR at the crest of the technological wave, rather than wiped out on the shore of irrelevance. The primary one we have in mind for the upcoming year is to make the NOR available on e-book and tablet platforms. This will require a capital investment that we’re not prepared to make at this point, not when we’re struggling merely to make payroll. But much like when we launched our website in 2005, not taking this crucial next step would be the mistake of an organization that would prefer to sign its own death notice than venture into an uncertain future. Getting the NOR onto e-book and tablet platforms — delivering our message to as many people in as many ways as possible — will not replace our primary focus, which is the print publication, but would be, like our website, an adjunct to it.

Often when new technology dazzles us with its promises of convenience and speed, we’re tempted to believe that the new toy will replace the old tools. And, yes, it’s been known to happen from time to time. But web­sites and e-books really represent new methods of disseminating the old printed word. E-books especially are merely alternatives to real books. Those who exalt the new formats must not recall that it was only a decade ago that the most populous state in the union, California, was subject to rolling blackouts. And it wouldn't be wise to dismiss the growing movements to “get off the grid.” The limitations of power sources, and the eternal yearning of man to return to nature, to a simpler way of living, give us reason to hope that we’re right that there is a future for print.

But there will be no future for the NOR — either in print or in electronic print alternatives — without your help. There are four primary ways you can help carry us forward into the future. The first is the easiest: Pray for us. Pray for the perseverance of our apostolate, that we not only survive but find a way to thrive. The second is just as easy: Stick with us. Stick with us despite the extra few bucks we’re asking. The third is to recommend us to your friends, colleagues, priests, and fellow parishioners. There’s no better way to “grow a business,” it’s said, than by word of mouth. But more than a mere recommendation, we ask you to consider giving gift subscriptions to those you know who would benefit from our witness. We’d like to think that this pool of people is rather large. The fourth way you can ensure our survival is to help us meet our current fund­raising goal. To set our financial house in order — to pay our accumulating past-due bills, to make back payroll, to replenish our meager reserves — and to make the capital investment necessary to deliver the NOR to e-book and tablet platforms, we need to raise $197,000. And we need to raise it in fairly short order.

Please send in your tax-deductible donation, as soon as you are able, 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, ext. 0). The NOR is a nonprofit religious organization and has 501(c)(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service.

There’s a lot at stake right now, for the future of the NOR and for the future of the Church in our relentlessly secular society. Much as Israel needed prophets in her times of apostasy and crisis, the Church, for her own good, needs independent, faithful voices to remind her of, and help her clarify, her heritage, her mission, and her promise. Won’t you help ensure that our independent voice doesn’t go silent?

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...the fact that this happens to be the first comment made on the matter is proof that a justified 26% increase is not on the radar screen of subscribers. (It sure beats the 55% increase for insurance a large national company rationalized by claiming: "everyone's went up," even if they had no claims in over a decade, as in my case. ) Posted by: John
December 04, 2012 12:05 PM EST
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