On Not Burying Our Talent

November 1989

This past fiscal year has been a good one for the NEW OXFORD REVIEW, perhaps our best one to date. Indeed, this is the fifth straight year — a record for us — that we’ve been able to avoid a hike in subscription rates. We feel we’ve been blessed. And, although we can’t rule out future budget deficits, we feel that it’s now time for the staff and readers of the NOR to think of expansion, lest in burying our talent in the ground, we reap the judgment our Lord spoke of in Matthew 25:14-30.

Over the last decade our circulation has been rather stable, bouncing around between 4,000 and 8,000. These are honorable figures for a low-budget publisher such as we are, but when you consider that the circulation of other periodicals is so much higher (e.g., Commonweal is at about 18,000, The Wanderer is about double that, and National Review is well over 100,000), you know that we still have a long, long way to go.

The experts say that nine out of 10 magazine start-ups fail — but the NOR is now over 12 years old. It sure looks like we’re here to stay. One way we’ve beaten those dismal start-up statistics is by being very prudent about how we spend money, and how much money we spend, on promo­tion — not to mention on wages, overhead, and operating expenses, etc.

The conventional wisdom in magazine publishing is that the best way to attract new subscribers is through direct-mail solici­tations. That’s true. But direct mail is very expensive and thus very risky. So, instead, we’ve been content to find subscribers through display ads in other periodicals. Display ads are much less expensive — hence much less risky. But, as you know, one often gets what one pays for. So, while we’ve avoided catastrophic monetary losses, we’ve also missed out on dramatic gains in circulation. It’s a mystery to us, but it’s undeniable that people are far more respon­sive to direct mail than to magazine ads. Moreover, there are many more available and appropriate mailing lists to rent than there are available and appropriate periodi­cals in which to advertise.

Only once in our history have we tried direct mail — and we lost our shirts. The problem was that we did it on the cheap. Most significantly, the mailing piece we sent out was slim and shabby — and the re­sponse was more than correspondingly meager. We chalked it up as a lesson learned.

We vowed we would never again do direct mail until such time as we could raise sufficient extra funds to do it right.

Therefore we are now seeking to raise upwards of $25,000 in investment capital to do it right. The funds will go to renting quality mailing lists, producing an attractive and persuasive direct-mail package, and of course to paying the mailing house and postage.

When we say “investment capital,” we mean this: Direct mail is considered success­ful when the dollars spent on it are equivalent to or less than the dollars received for new subscriptions. Thus, the money spent does not go down a hole — it comes back, and is in turn reinvested in subsequent direct-mail campaigns. The initial capital should be considered “seed money,” for as the funds are continually reinvested, the number of new subscribers grows and grows. All this makes good sense, but only if the initial investment funds are not taken out of our operating budget, and thus the survival of the NOR is not put in jeopardy.

We have already approached several foundations about this, only to learn that direct mail is not the sort of project for which they make grants. And we don’t have any sugar daddies to turn to. Therefore, we are turning to you, our loyal readers. If you don’t appreciate the uniqueness of the NOR and don’t want to see its perspective magni­fied, then no one does. But we are confident you do, and therefore we know we can count on you.

We trust you will take a few minutes to contemplate what the NOR has meant to you, and what it would mean to so many other people who have not made it a part of their pilgrimage on this earth.

So, please send your donation (tax deductible to the extent allowed by law) to: NEW OXFORD REVIEW, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706. No amount is too large or too small. Consider it an investment in what you believe in.

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