Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Another Magazine Disappears

I belong to several online forums. A post from yesterday caught my attention, with the subject heading, “Marketing Update Christian Parenting Today.” The writer said Christian Parenting Today had ceased publication. Another fine magazine has disappeared off the marketplace. If you spend many years writing for magazines (as I have), you learn the magazine business had a high failure rate. If a publication stays in business five years or more, they are unusual. Christian Parenting Today was around probably about twenty or twenty-two years. CPT-COVER

As a fairly new writer, I remember getting a call from the founding editor of Christian Parenting Today. He and a small staff were putting together the first issue and in the process of lining up their regular contributors and columnists. At the time, I was reviewing many books (something that continues to a small degree). Most of my reviews were for trade magazines and Christian Parenting Today was launching as a consumer publication (for the general news stand and marketplace). With my verbal marching orders from the editor, I became the first book review columnist for CPT. The magazine launched as a bi-monthly—every other month. My assignment was to review the best and newest books for parents and also to suggest children’s books (a variety of ages). I’m unsure of my word limitations (that was years ago) but it was probably about 2,000 words. I crammed as many short, positive recommendations into that space as possible. Because I was selecting which books to include (with little or no input from my editors), the floodgates of books opened from the publishers. Almost every Christian and many general market publishers added my name and mailing address to their “A” list of reviewers. Let’s take a major publisher like Zondervan who releases about 150 books a year. I would get almost every one of these releases. Just opening the packages from the publishers became quite a challenge—much less selecting the particular books which I would write about for the magazine. Each publisher was eager to reach the growing audience of this publication. I believe at one point the magazine circulation was at least 150,000.

I wrote this material for the first two or three years of Christian Parenting Today. Plus I wrote several feature articles on parenting related topics. My children were younger then and I was in the throws of parenting and found it easy to write about these aspects. I was in touch with the editors because of the book review column. Eventually I watched these editors move to other parts of the business. Both of the founding editors are still in publishing but in book aspects of the business and not in the magazine area. Eventually the editorial staff moved from Sisters, Oregon (where the magazine began) to Colorado Springs. I continued writing for the new editors because only a few of them made the move with the publication. From several editors, I’ve heard the story of the day the magazine (there were several magazines) were purchased and moved. Those editors lost their jobs and were forced into other positions.

I’m recounting some of these moves so you can understand the importance of continuing your relationships with the editors. I continued my relationships with the editors who moved away. And I began my relationship with the new editors. Some of these editors have left the business while others continue in thriving careers.

Why is the magazine business so difficult and why do these publications disappear? It returns to an aspect many writers don’t think about when they write for a publication—the business side of magazines. Like commercial television, what pays for the programs? It’s the commercials. In the commercial magazine business, it’s those full-color ads which pay for the publication. Subscribers only pay a small percentage of the actual value of the magazine. The rest of the cost is carried through advertising. Inside the magazine, there is this constant juggling between editorial and advertising for space. It’s a delicate balance and the costs are many—staff, overhead (building, lights, etc) along with paying the freelance writers. The writer has to roll with the punches—or so I’ve learned after years of working with different magazines and editors.

While I understand these changes, it’s still a bit sad to see a fine publication like Christian Parenting Today disappear from the magazine landscape. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved in the early years of that magazine.

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