On Not Burying Our Talent
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.
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