Sunday, April 10, 2011

Keeping The Walrus's head above water

Reading an interesting editor's note in the May issue of The Walrus magazine, I recalled the conversations in which I was intimately involved during its formative stages about the need for a "third stream" of revenue.
That's what editor and co-publisher John Macfarlane writes about and how this third stream (charitable donations from people who wish the magazine and its works well) remains critical to its future.
The other two streams (circulation -- subscriptions/single copy sales -- and advertising) are sufficient for most mainstream magazines to make a modest margin and to stay in business. But for a magazine like The Walrus, which retails ideas and long-form journalism, something more is needed. That something else is apparently there so far in sufficient amounts to keep The Walrus afloat. 
Macfarlane reports that in 2010, supporters gave more than $1.6 million to The Walrus Foundation to make up the difference between what it costs to produce 10 issues a year (about $3.3 million) and what it can raise through the traditional two streams ($1.625 million).
He recalls his Quixotic quest to keep Saturday Night magazine alive (it died later, but not on his watch) with a similar mission under similar strictures.
"Is such a magazine sustainable? Our contract with the foundation’s patrons is not so different from our contract with the magazine’s readers; both oblige us to deliver the goods. So yes, as long as we can continue to convince patrons and readers alike that its existence is vital, The Walrus will survive. Shelley Ambrose, our co-publisher and executive director of the Walrus Foundation, calls it an “optimistic national project,” which it is. But for me, it is also personal, because in The Walrus the spirit of Saturday Night lives on."

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