Facing declining circulation and revenue, the board of directors of Presbyterian Record Inc., publisher of the Presbyterian Record, has decided to cease publication of the magazine with the December 2016 issue.
In a statement board chair Botond Fejes wrote: “Arriving at this conclusion has been a difficult process for the board. Its members have struggled with this responsibility for a considerable time. The continued publication of the Record, in its present configuration, was simply not sustainable … therefore, we are sadly constrained to allow this ebb in the fortunes of the Presbyterian Record to run its course.”
The magazine’s publisher and editor, David Harris, said the magazine simply couldn’t transition quickly enough from a subscription-based model to a philanthropically financed model.
“Our donors have been fantastic,” said Harris. “Over the past 12 years, they have given us almost $1.5 million. Without that support, the magazine would have folded years ago.”
Over the past 25 years, readership has been declining at an average rate of 2,000 subscribers a year, while the denomination itself—the magazine’s sole market—has been declining at a rate of about 2,800 members a year.
The Record posted a loss of $141,425 at the end of 2015 on a $900,000 budget, with another nearly quarter million-dollar loss projected for 2016. Harris said the magazine would have needed to raise an additional $75,000 this year and about $250,000 next year in order to continue. The magazine approached General Assembly in June for support in asking the broader church to try to come up with $50,000. But with committees just beginning to hold fall meetings, the only achievement was free rent at 50 Wynford Dr., the church’s national offices in Toronto, saving about $20,000 from the budget.
Harris also said that publishing an online-only version of the magazine was not an option. “Salaries, not printing and postage, are the biggest costs at a small magazine like the Record,” he said. “You need excellent staff whether a publication is online or print. And the Record could not expect to generate significant online revenue.”
The Record has been published monthly since January 1876. Over its 140 years it has had eight editors. Harris has led the magazine since 2002.
In 1975, circulation stood at 88,000. By the turn of the century, that number had fallen to 50,000 and has continued the slide to about 10,000 today.
“Besides the fall in denominational numbers, the financial crisis of 2007-2008 was definitely a major factor,” said Harris. “Many—perhaps most—Presbyterians are on a fixed income. They saw their net worth fall, their pension income decline, and congregations needed their money just to keep up the buildings and ministers’ salaries.
“The magazine became an expendable luxury under the circumstances.”
The 2000s have been hard on both church membership and print media. Dozens of denominational and other faith-based magazines have closed—the Western Catholic Reporter, with a weekly circulation of 32,000, is folding its print edition at the end of September.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada itself has lost about a third of its members so far this century. According to the denomination’s statistics, at the beginning of 2000 there were 134,683 communicant members, and 28,120 children in Sunday schools. Congregations raised $94.8 million, of which $8.6 million went to Presbyterians Sharing, the national operating fund for the denomination.
By 2015, the numbers had fallen to 91,036 members and a little over 17,000 in Sunday school. Congregations raised $127 million, of which $7 million was sent to Presbyterians Sharing.
In 2015 alone, the Presbyterian Church in Canada lost 16 congregations, 206 elders, and 2,379 households. And staff cuts at the national office have been ongoing for the last decade.
While the magazine is not directly funded by the PCC, it does receive below-market rent at national offices and the bulk of the advertising featured is from within the denomination.
Presbyterian Record Inc. was formed in 2000 to publish the magazine, and the original letters patent also allow the corporation to meet the denomination’s various publishing needs.
While the magazine will cease publication in 2017, the board has decided not to fold Presbyterian Record Inc. It is clear that magazines like the Record can no longer be sustained on the subscription model that worked well for nearly a century, but the directors want to keep the corporation’s options open.
“The board has been fully supportive of the dedicated and talented staff that has brought the Presbyterian Church in Canada this quality publication for so many years,” said board chair Botond Fejes. “This decision underlines the board’s moral and legal commitment to the management and employees of the Record to ensure that this painful but necessary process be in keeping with the Christian principles of the PCC.”
Along with Harris, the editorial staff includes managing editor Amy MacLachlan (since 2003); senior editor Andrew Faiz (2004); and senior writer Connie Wardle (2008). Deborah Leader has been the circulation manager since 2005. Lisa Van Arem was appointed director of development last year. Caroline Bishop has been the art director since 2006; Salina Vanderhorn has been the designer since 2011; and Wil McGilvery has managed the website since 2010.
Staff will stay on until the end of November to complete the final December issue and facilitate the winding down. The last day of employment will be November 30. Presbyterianrecord.ca and the two Facebook pages will be set to archival modes as of December 1.