"What could you do at WORLD magazine," a loyal reader asked me a couple of weeks ago during a visit to western Massachusetts, "if you were able to double your circulation?"
The question startled me for several reasons. But chief among them was that very few folks in publishing circles these days think or talk about increasing circulation-much less doubling it. The newspapers and magazines that haven't already been forced into bankruptcy are taking painful steps to cut costs.
So for starters, I was tempted to tell my friend, a doubling of WORLD's subscriber base would mean we could almost certainly set aside all worries about our immediate future. (Of course, I'm making the implausible assumption that there is no cost associated with finding all those new subscribers.) Nevertheless, if we knew our revenue for this coming year would double last year's revenue, our management task would, theoretically at least, be only half as hard.
True, for every new subscriber, we'd have to print 26 additional magazines, pay another $9 or $10 in postage during the course of the year's subscription, and process the subscriber data. Those would be new costs. But the genius of publishing is that we might not have to hire any new reporters or writers or editors or graphic designers or proofreaders. The creative work of putting our biweekly magazine together is behind us-and all we'd have to do now is to print more of those same magazines.
I say that's what I was tempted to tell my friend. It's an attractive scenario. But it's not what I said-because it wouldn't have been quite true.
The truth is that while WORLD magazine is, of course, an economic enterprise, it is not first and foremost an economic enterprise. Our commitment to good stewardship demands that we manage our affairs with care and discretion, but our ultimate goal is something other than to return a profit to stockholders at the end of the year. WORLD is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, one division of a three-part entity committed to helping adults, children, and aspiring journalists get a better handle on world news from a Christian perspective.
So would we like to see WORLD's circulation base double over the coming year? We would be thrilled. Would that ease our financial challenge and make our business model simpler? In every way we can imagine.
But the reason I didn't put it just that way with my friend in Massachusetts is that almost certainly, our first impulse would be to use some of that revenue to make WORLD a better magazine than it already is. Instead of making our stockholders richer (there aren't any!), our commitment is to look for ways to make WORLD a richer read, to make our children's publications more compelling to little kids, and to hurry some of our World Journalism Institute students along their career paths. In other words: Put those extra dollars back into the product-and see what happens.
Right now, though, I have to remind you that my friend's question was a hypothetical. What difference would it make, he asked, if our circulation just happened to double? But it hasn't doubled yet (it's stayed even at about 120,000 for the last few years), and we don't yet have those extra dollars.
So I'll ask: Do you have them? Are you a WORLD friend who might want to accelerate that pattern, helping us improve and enrich the product even before the circulation doubles-and maybe helping that very doubling to happen?
WORLD's publisher, Nick Eicher, invited you in our last issue to be a partner with us to that end. (See "Needed: WORLD Movers," Nov. 21, 2009.) I think he's right: Now represents a historic opportunity for Christian journalism to make significant inroads in the culture. So I'm renewing that invitation to you here. We won't badger you beyond that; the record shows that it's our habit to limit these appeals in our editorial space.
But such modesty shouldn't suggest the opportunity's not important. So first, let me encourage those who are able to help WORLD with gifts of $25, $50, $100, and $500 at this year's end. Please click here and use our online donation page for a WORLD-moving sort of gift.
But let me also renew a challenge I've put here before: Might you be ready to commit $5,000 a year, for three years, to make WORLD's publishing enterprise that much more effective? More than 50 people have made such a commitment. If you think you'd like to join their ranks, let me know. We'll get together, sit down, and have a talk like the one I had with my friend in Massachusetts.
If you have a question or comment for Joel Belz, send it to email@example.com.
To hear commentaries by Joel Belz, click here.