Volume > Issue > Beneath the Rising Tide

Beneath the Rising Tide

THE COST OF INDEPENDENCE IN TOUGH TIMES

By Pieter Vree | November 2022
Pieter Vree is Editor of the NOR.

In case you haven’t noticed — and if you haven’t, you’re either fabulously wealthy or a dedicated thrifter — the cost of just about everything has gone up.

In some cases, costs have gone up considerably. Take gasoline. This spring, gas prices shot up, and over the course of the summer, they kept going up — and up and up — climbing to unprecedented levels. Here in California, prices peaked at just over $7 per gallon in some cities. Nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the price of gasoline increased 44 percent in the 12 months ending in July 2022. Wow!

Gas prices have since stabilized and are now merely incredibly high rather than outrageously high. When you were made to pay $6.89 for a gallon of gas in the spring, paying $5.49 per gallon in the fall feels like a bargain. Hey, that’s a 20 percent discount!

(At publication, gas prices are back up to spring levels. So much for that false sense of relief.)

Gasoline isn’t the only thing that’s gotten costlier. Airfare has increased 33.4 percent over last year. Electricity has risen 15.8 percent. Food prices have shot up 11 percent — the largest increase since 1979 — outpacing overall inflation. (Most eye-popping is the increase in the cost of eggs, which skyrocketed an astounding 82.3 percent, thanks, in part, to an avian flu outbreak.) Rates for a 30-year mortgage crested at 6.5 percent for the first time since the housing-market crash of 2008. And postage prices are up in nearly every category — just in time for the holidays. Of particular concern to those of us in the publishing industry, there was a global paper shortage last year. Remember all the talk of “supply chain” issues caused by the coronavirus lockdowns? That shortage resulted in — you guessed it — an increase in the price of paper.

Postal rate hikes, by the way, aren’t necessarily tied to the inflationary economy, supply chain issues, or the lockdown. They have become, over the past decade or so, fairly regular occurrences. The United States Postal Service has raised its rates every year for the past three years.

Compounding the problem is that the USPS has been struggling to do what it’s supposed to do: deliver the mail intact and on time. Yes, we’ve heard — loud and clear — from those of you who’ve missed issues of the NOR or whose issues were mangled upon delivery. Well, guess what? We now get to pay even more for this type of “service.”

And there’s the rub. We’re — all of us — paying more across the board for the same old things. Does a gallon of gas get you farther than before? Is food more filling? Are airlines more accommodating? Does the mail arrive faster? No, no, no, and no.

There’s one organization that doesn’t want to force you to pay more for the same thing. It’s an organization that prides itself on bucking trends. That organization is, of course, New Oxford Review Inc.

All indications are that we should copy the crowd and pump up our prices. But we don’t want to raise our prices. We’ve raised subscription rates only once in the past 40 years, and that was almost a decade ago. In all honesty, we’re not sure how much longer we can hold out.

Not only does it cost more to produce our little print publication, it’s getting costlier to process payments. The company that services our credit-card transactions increased its rates as well. As of this month, fees increase from 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per transaction to 3.4 percent plus 30 cents. That means fees for a one-year print subscription paid by credit card will increase from $1.00 to $1.12, while fees for a one-year combo subscription (print plus online) will increase from $1.40 to $1.60. The charge to process a $100 donation goes from $3.20 to $3.70. These might seem like small adjustments, but they add up quickly.

Print aside, we’re getting squeezed on the digital end as well. The company that hosts our website recently raised its hourly rate for routine maintenance by 15 percent, from $160 to $185 per hour. This increase is necessary, they said, due to “the reality of inflation and wage pressure.”

Talk about pressure. We’re getting it from every direction!

Apart from all these cost increases, we’re feeling the pinch in another area: technology.

Nothing made these days is meant to last very long. That’s true especially of tech. You’re lucky if you have a smartphone that’s lasted more than the industry standard two-and-a-half years. You’re lucky if you have a laptop that’s lasted more than the industry standard four-and-a-half years. Here at the NOR, necessity outpaces luck. Our shoestring, nonprofit budget means we have to extract as much value from our tech tools as we possibly can. Your faithful editor, for example, reluctantly upgraded his smartphone this summer after getting twice the industry standard from his last one: five years of use.

It was a reconditioned phone when he got it, made by a company that quit the smartphone market in 2021. For the past couple years, the phone’s battery couldn’t hold a charge for more than a few hours, and the power button had malfunctioned. The darn thing couldn’t be shut down or restarted, making it wonky. Google searches for overrides came up with one answer: dab rubbing alcohol onto the power button (which was on the back, not the side). Really?

Now, liquid and electronics generally don’t mix. But as his (obsolete) phone got wonkier and wonkier, your editor got desperate. So he dipped a Q-tip in alcohol and rubbed it on the power button as if conjuring a genie from a bottle. C’mon, baby, you can do it.

Lo and behold, that did the trick! Power on, power off. Though it was a source of great amusement to his younger children, and considerable embarrassment to his teenagers, by using this method periodically, your editor was able to wring another year’s worth of use out of that old phone.

Laugh if you must, but that’s par for the course here at the NOR.

Well before your editor was able to delay his phone’s demise, his laptop, on which he does the majority of his work, also started breaking down. First, the battery died. The machine would run only if plugged into an outlet. No problem. Stay at your desk, buddy. Next, the power cable would randomly lose connection to the adapter. A little electricians’ tape took care of that. Just don’t move the cord because without a battery backup, the laptop won’t stay on. Finally, the hinge that connects the top panel (with display screen) to the bottom panel (with keyboard) snapped. Oh, snap! Now, in addition to being stuck in one place, with a fragile electrical connection, the thing won’t close — and the top panel has to be propped up from behind to keep it from falling off. Oh, and the machine overheats after a few hours of use.

But there’s no sense in complaining. This laptop, after all, was purchased a decade ago, in 2012. Again, your editor got more than twice the expected time of service out of it.

Your faithful associate editor had a similar experience. For years she was using a “wiped” laptop, passed down to her from a relative. This summer, it finally stopped limping along and refused even to power on. Since her teenage son was on break, she was able to borrow his laptop until classes resumed. Then she shifted to her husband’s old laptop, but that thing is barely serviceable.

Meanwhile, the desktop computer your faithful managing editor uses to maintain the NOR’s subscriber database, among other critical tasks, is also reaching the dreaded decade mark. As are our printers. None of these things was meant to last this long.

So, we each need to upgrade our machines. In searching for the best and most affordable options, however, we stumbled across another stone.

Most of the programs we use are no longer single-purchase products; they are now subscription services. So, instead of paying once when upgrading computers for, say, Microsoft Office (we’re still using the 2010 iteration), we must now pay monthly. Microsoft Office, it turns out, has a fancier title, Microsoft 365, and a heftier price tag. At $12.50 a month, we’ll be paying into perpetuity for something we were able to purchase in the past for a onetime fee.

Meanwhile, Adobe InDesign, the program we use to lay out the magazine, which was a onetime purchase of $199 a decade ago, now costs $20.99 a month, or $2,518 for a decade’s worth of use — a 1,200 percent markup!

For the reasons enumerated above, it’s costing us more — much more — to produce and deliver the NOR to you on a regular basis. For as long as we can hold out, we won’t charge readers more to do so. We want to continue offering the best overall value in Catholic publishing, and even offering a discounted rate for the elderly, students, and the unemployed who otherwise could not afford the NOR (as well as a Scholarship Fund for prisoners, retired religious, and others in need). But one thing has become clear: We can’t keep offering deep discounts to all our readers.

One rate we do have to raise is subscriptions to foreign countries. The USPS charges us $6.18 to mail an issue to Europe ($5.23 to Mexico, $3.52 to Canada), or $61.80 for a year’s worth of issues. We’ve been charging $36 for a one-year non-U.S. subscription — a huge money loser for us. Forget production costs; that amount barely covers half the postage (and it covers only the postage to Canada). In news we are sorry to have to impart to our subscribers in other countries, the new rate for a one-year non-U.S. subscription will be $50. That’s still a money loser, but not as big a loss. We really ought to charge twice the old rate, but that, we feel, would be too much of a shock to our foreign subscribers, whom we cherish and don’t want to price out.

Beyond this singular rate increase, the only way we can ride out the uncertainties of this inflationary economy is, once again, to appeal to the generosity of our faithful readers. It is you for whom we work, write, and struggle.

As we’ve repeated often, and as is still the case, the NOR has no “handlers.” We don’t have — and don’t want — the type of institutional or foundational sponsorship that compromises the witness of other Catholic media outlets (especially the big ones that maintain slick television, radio, web, and print programs). There are no billionaires underwriting our endeavors, and thus no deep-pocketed ideologues secretly driving our editorial content. And we receive zero financial support from the Catholic Church, which would just as soon see us fold up and disappear.

Feeding at either of those troughs would undermine the NOR’s very purpose: presenting a lean and mean, complete and uncompromising articulation of the Catholic vision of the world, issue after issue and year after year — for 45 years now!

That leaves us free to engage in the intellectual battles of the day without being told how to fight. Take the current debate over integralism (in this issue and our Sept. 2022, Jan.-Feb. 2022, and Nov. 2021 issues): Nobody at, say, the Franciscan University of Steubenville is paying us to go on the offensive for post-liberalism, just as nobody at Georgetown University is paying us to make a defense of classical liberalism. We’re free to follow the logic of our arguments wherever it may lead. Outside interests don’t determine our conclusions. That’s because we aren’t required to advance anyone’s agenda.

Yes, we are fiercely independent. And no, we don’t benefit financially from our freedom. Who does benefit? Anyone interested in a no-strings-attached presentation of this and so many other topics of interest to serious Catholics.

Our freedom, of course, comes at a cost. The cost is our ability to invite you to an annual conference with big-name speakers, or to a glitzy cruise where you’d be wined and dined, or to an awesome pilgrimage to a holy site (possibly led by one or more “canceled” priests — yes, they are a thing now). Keeping an independent Catholic journal going can be lonely, humbling work — just you try carrying around a small bottle of rubbing alcohol to operate your phone — but it is rewarding if not well-remunerated work. After offering you our very best within our limited means, we can close out each workday with clear consciences.

If the work of the NOR is valuable to you, and if you think our witness is valuable to the Church at large, please help us in our time of need. Without our readers as a lifeline, we’ll drown under the rising tide of inflationary “cost adjustments.” Can we count on you to keep us afloat?

To help raise the NOR’s sails and chart a course into a more secure future, please send your donation to New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706. Make checks and money orders payable to New Oxford Review. Credit card donations can be made via a secure server at newoxfordreview.org/donations.

Rest assured that no part of your contribution will go to advertising consultants, fundraising agencies, or any other middleman (save for the aforementioned processing fees). All of it will go toward necessary equipment upgrades and weathering this financial storm.

The NOR is a nonprofit organization and has 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Donations are, therefore, tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

One more thing: Please remember the NOR in your prayers, that we retain our independence — and, thereby, our integrity — no matter the cost.

 

©2022 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

 

To donate with a credit card via a secure server, please click here: newoxfordreview.org/donations.

To submit a Letter to the Editor, click here: https://www.newoxfordreview.org/contact-us/letters-to-the-editor/

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