Growing Pains

November 1993By Dale Vree

Dale Vree is Editor of New Oxford Review.

There is cause for rejoicing: Our circulation has doubled in the last two years, to about 14,000, as of this writing. This jump forward has largely been made possible by the providential kindness of those of our readers who make donations above and beyond the subscription price, because donations enable us to purchase ads that bring us new subscribers.

Rather amazingly, this leap ahead has been accomplished without resorting to direct mail, more commonly known as junk mail. Like George Kennan (see his article in our June 1993 issue), we've always had an aversion to junk mail, not wanting to visit upon the public even more unwanted mis­sives. But lest our halo blind you, we must admit that we can't af­ford to do direct mail. Most people don't realize that direct mail is a far more expensive, and therefore risky, way of finding new subscrib­ers than full-page ads. But there's another aspect, which we mention at the risk of sounding snobbish: The thought of getting into the tacky junk mail game bores us, but we very much enjoy creating full-page ads, and people seem to en­joy reading them -- and talking about them. The most recent pub­lic comment came from Richard John Neuhaus. In a summer issue of First Things, he rather gener­ously noted that the NEW OX­FORD REVIEW "is known to run articles sometimes as interesting as the advertisements it places...." Of course, in the very next issue of his formidable magazine, he re­versed field and lampooned the theme of many of our ads as per­haps being "not very intelligent." However dumb our ads may be, they do get noticed -- and they do get results.

But it's an illusion to think that a circulation of 14,000 guar­antees our viability. Christianity & Crisis, the prestigious biweekly founded by Reinhold Niebuhr, col­lapsed this year, while its circula­tion stood at a respectable 13,000. Yes, the NOR is almost 17 years old, but longevity is no guarantee either. Christian Herald died last year, after a whopping 115 years of publication. Magazine publish­ing is a high-risk venture, espe­cially for independent periodicals like the NOR, which are not backed by corporations or foundations, and are not subsidized by a uni­versity or church or (as with pub­lic radio and television) the gov­ernment. And the risk is com­pounded when the economy is as troubled as ours is today, and when a video-oriented culture in­creasingly imperils literacy and lit­erary values -- not to mention basic Christian values. It is de­pressing, and alarming, to note that the number of weekly and bi­weekly periodicals in the U.S. dropped from 2,258 in 1987 to a dismal 837 in 1992.

One might think that because the NOR's circulation has doubled, our bottom line has doubled too. Not so. Our bottom line has essentially remained the same. For three basic reasons: (1) We consider a full-page ad a suc­cess when its total cost is matched by the revenue it brings in from new subscriptions, which is gen­erally what happens. So the bot­tom line does not improve. Actu­ally, not only has there been no improvement, but in our last fis­cal year our total expenses ex­ceeded our total income by a mod­est amount. Yes, an increasing number of subscription renewals should help us later on down the line, but the percentage of our sub­scribers who renew tends to decline as our circulation goes up --indeed, we're seeing this happen right now -- and so we cannot place a lot of stock in revenues from renewals. (2) There are un­foreseen expenses. Recently our computer's hard drive crashed and we had to purchase a new com­puter. Not quite unforeseen is the increase in second-class nonprofit postal rates (under which the NOR is mailed to subscribers) which is, as of this writing, looming large. (3) Growth is costly. Because we're printing and mailing many more copies, our printing and mailing costs have increased substantially. Moreover, we've been snowed un­der with new subscriptions and bogged down with handling re­newal notices. Plus, we now get twice as many phone calls and knocks on the door, as well as let­ters and inquiries of all and sun­dry kinds. So, we needed help, and had to hire a new person. Nan Rohan, who comes to us from the San Francisco Catholic, is a won­derful and wonderfully competent Christian woman. She is working with us on desktop publishing and circulation, which means we must add a new workstation for her. And of course she must be paid. In ad­dition, our phone system urgently needs upgrading, and soon we're going to have to relent and buy a copier and a fax machine, espe­cially the latter since operating without one is becoming a real handicap.

The fundraising "experts" say that to raise funds you must "cry wolf," even if there's no wolf at the door. We're not crying wolf. The experts say it's smart to offer a bonus, say, a free coffee mug or a chance in a raffle for a free trip to Atlantic City. We don't have the time -- or the staff -- for such gimmicks. The experts say you should ask for money even when you don't need it, because people give and if they aren't giving to you they'll give to someone else. But we're not into fundraising as an end in itself -- frankly, it's a distraction from what we feel called to do.

The facts of the matter are simply that we pride ourselves on being a low-budget operation, our frugality has facilitated our growth, and growth is costly and must be paid for. Ironically, suc­cess is jeopardizing our future. We need help to consolidate our growth and prepare us for further growth.

One way of helping the NOR is to give friends and/or relatives gift subscriptions for Christmas. But we really need donations. No amount is too small -- or too large. Zero percent of the funds raised goes to fundraising agencies or consultants. Every­thing goes to paying our bills and, beyond that, to further expanding the witness of the NOR. The NOR is a nonprofit entity and has 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Do­nations are therefore tax-deduct­ible to the extent allowed by law. Send your donation to NEW OX­FORD REVIEW, 1069 Kains, Ave., Berkeley CA 94706. Please do it now, before our needs fade from your mind. And please, of your mercy, remember us in your prayers: that we may continue to grow, but that we never forget Whom that growth is to serve.

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