A dark time for Catholic magazines

A dark time for Catholic magazines

Interesting news from Crisis magazine (via Mark Shea). They have announced that come September they will be going to a Web-only format, expanding their presence online dramatically and giving it away for free.

For that reason, and since the writing is so clearly on the wall, we are making a move while we still control our own financial and apostolic destiny. Here it is: September will mark the final print edition of crisis Magazine. Beginning on September 1, crisis will move entirely online, in an expanded format. It will have the same features, reviews, and columns (in addition to several new items that we never had room for in the magazine). Furthermore, everything will be free; no more subscription costs.

As both a Crisis subscriber and a former Catholic magazine editor, I understand what’s motivating their decision.

As much as the Internet scratches the itch of instant gratification, I still prefer print for longer and more thoughtful articles.

Brian Saint-Paul, the editor, clearly lays out the increased expenses—notably radically increased postage costs. Just as devastating is the decreasing subscription rates. People just aren’t subscribing to Catholic magazines like they once did and those who do are skewed toward a much older demographic.

That was the great challenge at Catholic World Report: How do you keep the news fresh when it’s at the very least two weeks old by the time it arrives in your mailbox. Meanwhile, I will have read about it on Catholic World News the day it happened.

While Crisis wasn’t as subject to that problem as CWR is—since they’re not a news-reporting magazine—they still suffer from the delayed gratification effect. And that’s a shame because, as much as the Internet scratches the itch of instant gratification, I still prefer print for longer and more thoughtful articles. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m an old geezer, but I just prefer to have paper to hold in my hands when reading anything longer than 500 words or so.

Whither CWR?

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  • As a Crisis subscriber I find this sad news.  Though I do subscribe to the digital versions of most magazines I read.  While I do like a paper copy, I do like having a copy I can search through and extract from and that doesn’t take up close space.  I wonder if they considered having two versions with a digital version for those who prefer to it?

    When the next generation of e Ink displays come out though I won’t care about paper copies at all.

  • Crisis Magazine does its part to avert global catastrophe by going paperless.  Cheryl Crow unavailable for comment.

  • It’s just part of a bigger trend.  Many young adults get their news online.  I remember growing up with the major local paper (Washington Post) at home.  But now that I’m on my own, why not get the news online.  Subscriptions can be expensive and if you can get the same thing online, pointless.

  • This surprises me, but I assume they’ve done their homework. I am still baffled by the number of folks who get their current evnents/news from dead trees, but I agree with you, Dom, that thoughtful reflections, essays, analyses, etc. ought to be on paper (though the download option always remains).

    I was twelve years an editor and could never make ends meet—not only postage but the radical rises in paper costs. I think the result is that a conscientious believer must take a two-pronged approach: disciplined and focused time to collect info in the internet (fighting the temptation to wander and digress grin and the rest spent in real, live human contact, giving flesh to the [informed] Gospel.

  • I like paper too, but I understand the challenge of paying bills and the dearth of magazine subscribers.

    There are lots of Catholic mags that I’d love to subscribe to but I don’t have the money or the time to read them all. I’ve thought for a long time that quite a few Catholic mags are similar and maybe they should combine forces and create one great magazine.

    I remember the plea by Patrick Madrid from a few years ago.

  • I don’t know, Mr. B, I’m only 30, but I have to print books from Project Gutenberg and places like that in order to read them.  My fiance teases me that for all the care I’ve taken formatting the text files in Word and binding them into booklets and binders and whatever method was handy, I could probably have just bought all Chesterton’s books.

  • From talking to other people I know I am not the only one with a problem reading off a TV screen. It is a lot, lot harder on my eyes and I cannot read off the sreen for anywhere the length I can read from “dead trees.” It is strange that “Crisis” had to go in this direction for their magazine (which I subscribe to) is mostly “in-depth” articles and columns and not nearly as truncated or shallow as so much on the internet. In fact, in the future, for print publications to survive I think they will have to specialize in providing a “timeless,” “in-depth”
    product. Because I read newspapers and spend some time on the internet, most of the first part of Catholic World Report (their long news quick flashes section) I find a waste of time. But I find their articles sometimes indispensable

  • Also interesting was the printed observation that the NCReporter’s average reader is well into their 60’s, agewise.

  • Another factor has been the sheer number of magazines. I will often find two or three that are virtually alike in style and direction. Envoy and This Rock are a case in point. The Catholic Answer used to be unique until they got rid of Father Stravinskas. Now it’s a pale imitation of several other mags, and the circulation is way down.

    The people who really “get it” are the folks at New Oxford Review. They went to paid subscriptions for “web only” editions a couple of years ago. If I wanna read it in print, I print it out. Otherwise it stays right there on the web and doesn’t clutter up my house.

  • I think The Wanderer did the smart thing by offering an online version of the print edition.  What is nice about their setup is that you have access to their archives if you subscribe.  You can try three free issues online – past or current.  Check it out at their site.

    One of the finest periodicals I will subscribe to as long as it exists is Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  It is a dignified Catholic periodical.  They have been publishing one or two articles from each edition online as teasers.  There too, I wish they would offer an option to have access to an online version, with searchable archives, or just an online subscription period.

    However, I think the format used by The Wanderer is awesome.  There are various ways to view each article, search functions, ability to save articles to your computer, print, etc.  This way, you only need print out those that you want to keep and highlight and take notes on.  I wish more mags would venture in this direction.

    If they were smart, they would begin offering podcasts as part of the news site.

    Catholic magazines will need to shift gears from reporting events (often a month or two after we’ve read it online) to doing solid research and exposes on a variety of topics of interest to Catholic readers.

  • Although not a Catholic magazine per se, ‘First Things’ is worth checking out. I’ve gotten hooked on it enough to schlep to the bookstore to get my issue every month. Published by the Institute for Public Life, they offer articles which delve into everything from the war in Iraq to theological debates over the true meaning of Holy Saturday and Christ’s descent into Hell. Their contributors include of Avery Cardinal Dulles, Mary Ann Glendon, Michael Novak, George Weigel as well as prominent Evangelicals of many stripes.
    This month’s issue offers an amusing take on the Cult of Global Warming. The whole movement is a crock.

  • I like the model First Things adopted—maintaining the print subscription but offering online subscriptions as well; making the two most recent issues exclusively available to subscribers but the archives open to all. The Acton Institute follows a similar model with their Markets and Morality quarterly journal.

    I’ve generally found First Things more substantial content-wise than Crisis—when they first started out under McInerney and Michael Novak I recall the articles were a great deal longer and hardly any photos/images, but in recent years they opted for a more trendy, ‘slick’ graphics-heavy format with (what seems to me) superfluous double-paged ‘splash pages’ opening up the headlining articles. I assume this was in a bid to get more readers, but it did lose something in the process.

    They still have some first-rate columnists (Fr. Rutler, Fr. Schall, Thomas Howard) but these would just as easily be accomodated by an online ‘Catholic Exchange’ format—in which case, more power to them.

  • One thing that popped into my head last night when I finally got a chance to peruse the latest ‘Crisis’ mag… lovely cover, very Catholic and how sad that if internet publication is the future for many/most Catholic mags, this cover will be hidden from the many people who assisted its trip from the publication house to my house.

    Evangelization takes many forms and a lovely Catholic magazine cover traveling through the peopled mail route is one small way to touch the souls of our fellow brothers and sisters.