IT'S ONE THING TO RANT AND RAVE AT CONGRESS and the Bush administration for the federal government's humongous deficits and their collective inability to live within what seems to be an ample annual budget. But now it's budget time at WORLD magazine as well-and all those snide and withering things we've said come back to haunt me.
WORLD magazine will seek to accomplish its task over the coming year with a budget of about $10 million. A careless shortfall of just 1 percent on a $10 million operation still amounts to a hefty $100,000-and that is a constant reminder to me of how careful we must be. For $100,000, we could add another competent reporter, equip her with all the right technology, provide a decent travel allowance for the year, and still have some left over. But if we squander the $100,000, it means we'll shortchange our readers by not giving them the benefit of that additional reporter.
(Uncle Sam's managers are dealing with a budget that is more than 200,000 times bigger than WORLD's. A 1 percent miscalculation in the federal budget amounts to at least $20 billion-the sort of figure we hear pretty often but have no possible way of comprehending.)
WORLD's management team has succeeded in balancing its budget in six out of the last 10 years-just the opposite of Uncle Sam's budget, which was in balance only four times in the last 10. We don't expect, however, to reach that goal in our current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The last three years have been pretty brutal for the publishing business, and some of our colleagues in magazine publishing are thankful just to have survived.
But mere survival is hardly WORLD magazine's goal. WORLD is a cause even more than it is a business. From its beginning in 1986, WORLD's passion has been to help thoughtful readers catch up with a faithful account of each week's news-but always accompanied by helpful hints about seeing that news from a perspective that holds to God's providence in human affairs (see "Faithful reporting," April 10).
That is our mission. But we also appreciate business principles enough to understand that without balanced budgets, we won't be here very long to carry out our mission. So we'll be working hard the next couple of weeks to put together a budget for Fiscal 2005 that enhances both our mission and our corporate durability. Here are a few details of what we'll be working with:
• About 20 cents of every dollar we take in goes to design and print the magazine. Another 19 cents goes to postage and distribution costs.
• We expect to spend about 12 cents of every revenue dollar on creating each week's editorial package. That includes reporters, writers, editors, travel, proofreading, fact checking, and research.
• It will cost us about 3 cents out of every dollar to provide good customer service-including the processing of your initial subscription, your annual renewal, your address changes, etc.
• We'll spend about 9 cents on securing advertising for WORLD. That will be a good investment, producing at least a threefold return-and lowering the cost of your subscription because of the revenue provided by those ads.
• Our biggest expenditure-about 26 cents out of every revenue dollar-will go to attract new readers to WORLD. We will do that in dozens of different ways. Our research suggests that 2 million households in the United States would be interested in subscribing to a magazine like WORLD-if they only knew about it. We continue to look hard for inexpensive and effective ways to help them know.
• Another 10 cents goes for overhead-rent, bookkeeping, computers, and the like.
• And finally, our goal is to end up with a penny or two out of every revenue dollar to provide financial stability for the future. You can see that the margin of error is paper-thin.
So should we print WORLD on thinner paper? Skip that extra reporter? Cut back on the quality of the photos we use?
Hardly. We do promise to watch the p's and q's of our spending habits. But the very best way for WORLD to balance this coming year's budget, and many budgets in the future, is simply to increase our circulation. Historically, WORLD's most efficient method of finding new subscribers is through the recommendations of existing readers-or through gift subscriptions from them for their friends. Your help in adding even 10 percent to our present subscriber base of 130,000 will do wonders for the budget-making process.
And that isn't even our primary goal.