With this issue, World magazine starts its 12th year of publication. Folks who filed away all their copies should have 412 issues in their archives--13 issues from our first year in 1986, when we had to stop for several months to reconstruct our game plan, and 40 issues every other year except in the spring of 1993 when a giant snowstorm caved in the roof of our office building and forced us to combine two issues in one.
In human terms, WORLD should never have survived. The first-year mortality rate among new magazines in North America is over 80 percent. So why has God allowed WORLD to be among the 20 percent? At a journalism conference last month at Regent University, I suggested at least eight factors he has used to bring us to this point:
(1) Strong ideas. Wimpy products and wimpy ideas won't sustain an organization for very long. Strong ideas--not strong just for the sake of being strong, but strong because they are fervently held--take root and grow. WORLD magazine believes that biblical truth affects every facet of life, that God's directives affect both public and private policy issues. These are strong ideas, not merely trendy, but worthy of weekly exploration over the long haul.
(2) Outstanding people. Putting strong ideas in the hands of ordinary craftsmen is like sending your church league basketball team to the NCAA finals. But God has been good, since our earliest days, to equip WORLD with extraordinary reporters, writers, editors, critics, designers, illustrators, and cartoonists--several with national reputations. Marvin Olasky's willingness to coach this unusual crew constantly raises the standard. Backing this outstanding creative staff is a support group of first-rate marketing and finance people, customer service representatives, advertising executives, and others with a similar passion for WORLD's success.
(3) Accountability. As potent as strong ideas in the hands of outstanding people might be, the combination can also be volatile and even explosive. That's why it's important to keep the operation accountable to a seasoned board of directors--men and women who themselves are committed to the strong ideas that launched the mission, but who also have business savvy to keep those strong ideas alive in the marketplace. Without such a board, WORLD would long ago have found a niche--in the graveyard of well-intentioned periodicals.
(4) Launching pad. WORLD was blessed to find its origins in the context of an already-vigorous publishing activity. God's World Publications Inc. had for five years been distributing a series of news publications for children, and even in 1986 those little magazines were going to 185,000 youngsters every week. Facilities, equipment, resources, support staff, and know-how could all be shared. The $50,000 annual cost of an Associated Press photo and news system, for example, could be split down the middle. Indeed, the children's papers had themselves inherited a similar benefit when they started, building on the 40-year corporate history of The Presbyterian Journal, founded here in Asheville by the late missionary-doctor-journalist, L. Nelson Bell. The value of such a running head start is hard to measure.
(5) Capital. Presley Edwards of the A. G. Edwards brokerage company once told a small group of us a person starting a new business should calculate costs as carefully as possible, double the amount, double that again, multiply by ten, and "then pray that you've got enough." When we started WORLD in 1986, I said in repeated editorials in this space that we needed $1 million for the launch. We never found that million dollars--at least not in a single gift or investment. But of the approximately $7 million that we've spent on WORLD in its first 11 years, about $1.6 million has come in gifts. Not more than $180,000 has come from a single donor. Thousands of other people have said with their smaller gifts that WORLD's "strong idea" was worth supporting. It's an unusual way to capitalize a business; in this case, it seems to have been God's way.
(6) Marketing. Even strong ideas, put forward by good people, don't necessarily succeed by themselves. In an age of too-full mailboxes, a better magazine doesn't automatically mean readers will beat a path to your door. Aggressive, bold, and knowledgeable marketing is essential.
(7) Testing. Learning your market with greater and greater precision is also essential. It is essential so that you can quit doing things that don't work and apply your limited resources to things that do work. Lots of people talk about testing, but my experience is that very few ever actually do it or become good at it.
(8) Watching attrition. Coming to terms with the fact that not everybody will like you is hard. But denying that reality will kill you. Most magazines lose between a third and half of their readers every year. If that isn't built into your long-term game plan, you won't even need a long-term game plan; you simply won't be around. WORLD's readers are significantly more loyal than most, and that makes our task easier. But we've come to accept--and plan for--those who ignore their renewal notices.
If you're planning your own publishing effort, take this wisdom for what it's worth. These are not magic formulas. They represent bits and pieces that God arranges in his own great plan. I'm grateful he's been patient to let me learn them and stick around to tell about it.