The biggest news in our offices last week came from the folks in the marketing department: WORLD magazine had just reached its goal of 100,000 paid subscribers. Actually, by week's end it was 102,404.
But the loud squeals outside my office door were not coming from the marketing staff. They came instead from a six-week-old, 35-pound Tamworth hog who had gotten a special invitation, with his owner, to visit our offices that day. In a way, it was just a coincidence that the noisy pig arrived on the same day I learned that WORLD's circulation had topped 100,000. In another way, the two circumstances were closely related.
WORLD was launched in 1986 with the conviction that our society needed a faithful, feisty, and frequent source of news and commentary about what's going on in the world-from a distinctly Christian perspective. Our launch that first year was hard, and after 13 issues we had to take a year's recess. But since March 1987, we've been able to publish without interruption-and to defy the terrible odds against success that confront all new magazines.
Indeed, one wise man in publishing whose counsel I highly respect told me in 1988, after reviewing details of what we were doing, that we had an "impossible publishing formula." He was right-although I'm thankful in retrospect that we didn't believe him at the time. For it was our staff's determination to beat the odds, and our board of directors' wonderful loyalty to the cause, that God used to sustain what shouldn't normally have lasted.
All along the way, we've championed a sort of "contrarian" perspective, a determination to go against the flow-and that has made WORLD work. It's been precisely when others have said, "You can't do that!" that we've been inclined to say, "Let us try!" And God has been very merciful along the way.
Nobody quite seems to know why we once set a target of 100,000 subscribers. Maybe it's because when you're at 30,000, where we were stuck for several years until about 1994, 100,000 is the next really big number out there on the horizon. Maybe it's because somewhere between 30,000 and 100,000, you quit bleeding buckets of red ink every year. Maybe it's because national advertisers really don't take you seriously until you've passed that 100,000 threshold. In any case, several years ago our team looked collectively off into the distance, took stock of our resources, and said: "Let's go for it! Let's see if we can reach 100,000."
Now, with your help, we've done it.
And also with the help of 12-year-old John Barrett of Goldston, N.C. John's family had been WORLD subscribers for several years until this past spring-when John got interested in raising hogs. But buying five sows and a boar consumed a pretty good chunk of money, so when a few family expenses had to be trimmed, the Barretts' WORLD subscription fell by the wayside. "Right now," John's mother Lynn wrote me, "we have more pigs than pocket money."
"Might you be willing," I asked the Barretts, "to trade one of your pigs for a year's subscription?" John says now he thought the offer a bit strange, but with his parents decided that since the price of pork was down as much as it was, it was a deal they wouldn't pass up.
The Barretts drove five hours to Asheville with the pig in the back of their station wagon, and then John and I lugged the 35-pound payment through the front door and plunked him down in front of Julie Preuninger, who over the last 10 years has processed more WORLD subscriptions than anyone on our staff. "But never one like this," she says.
Depositing subscription checks you readers send us is a daily routine for our staff. Deciding where and how to deposit a smelly pig wasn't quite so easy. We'll report simply that he's eating well on a farm near here right now-and out of appreciation for his loyalty during this most unusual week, I think I'll say nothing just yet about matters like bacon, ham, and pork roast.
The main point is that even as we were closing in on 100,000 subscriptions, we here at WORLD couldn't afford to do things the way everyone else does. And we understand this contrarian approach takes a certain kind of partnership. If John Barrett's father David hadn't been willing to take a day off work, and if the whole Barrett family hadn't been willing to drive 10 hours that day-five in close quarters with a pig-we would have been stuck last week with just 99,999 subscribers instead of 100,000.
So we're appreciative to the Barretts, and to all the rest of you who made the first week in November a memorable time. But no, to the rest of you we must also say: Please don't sit there thinking of ways to test just how far this contrarian spirit might take us. Everything has its limits.