Volume > Issue > Growing Pains

Growing Pains


By Dale Vree | November 1993
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.

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