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Where the money comes from

By David Wilson

I’m always pleased when someone asks about the stories we run. It means readers are engaged with the magazine. When someone takes the time to ask about how we pay for it all — well, that really makes my day.

It doesn’t happen very often. Let’s face it, revenue and expenditures aren’t as captivating as words and images. But those dollars and cents are every bit as important. Without adequate and reliable funding, there would be no words or images — or at the very least, the words and images wouldn’t measure up to our readers’ expectations.

In some ways, producing content is the easy part of publishing a magazine. Paying for it is more problematic. You can control content: choose the right subject, writer and images, place them in the hands of skilled editors and designers, and there’s a decent chance the end product will turn out well.

Cobbling together the resources required to produce, print and deliver the magazine is a dramatically less certain undertaking. Two of our most important revenue streams, subscriptions and advertising, are closely linked to the health of the economy; if the economy sputters, they sputter too. And while different levels of government currently support Canadian magazines, we are all too aware that governments giveth and governments taketh away.

The Observer’s ties to The United Church of Canada add a further layer of uncertainty. Our readers are mostly United Church members or adherents. Aging and declining church membership means fewer paid subscribers. It also means the denomination as a whole cannot support the work of the church to the extent that it once did. The grant we receive from the General Council is still vitally important, but it is a fraction of what it used to be. The same goes for advertising booked by various church departments.

The one funding source that isn’t so subject to external forces is the Friends of The Observer Fund — it’s as healthy as our readers want it to be. Donations provide a cushion against systemic challenges (the 2008 economic meltdown stands out as a particularly vivid case in point), as well as the capacity to invest in measures to ensure the magazine’s long-term well-being. Over the years, the Friends Fund has become our lifeline — the difference between an Observer with a secure future and an Observer with a doubtful one.

Is it an accident that this message appears in the same issue as our spring Friends Fund appeal? Of course not. From now into the foreseeable future, we’ll rely more and more on donations from our readers to keep the magazine stable. Doing everything we can to promote the Friends Fund isn’t an option. It’s a necessity.  

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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