A year ago, we set out to try something new—an earnest campaign to ask our subscribers to help us grow the flock, giving them tools to do so. We set a mathematically and philosophically elegant goal: if every Friends Journal subscriber found just one more, together we’d double that number to 12,000. We were also open to the possibility that it might not work.
So what happened? We sent four mailings, each including some cards we asked our subscribers to share with a special $25 offer. The results in terms of subscription growth have been less than we hoped for: 303 new subscribers and about $8,000 in new subscription revenue directly attributable to this campaign. At the same time, some subscriptions have lapsed over the period, so our total subscriber base has moved from 6,134 in August 2015 to 6,007 in August 2016. You could say that we’ve discovered one more way that won’t work to substantially affect the number of magazine subscribers.
All the same, every subscription still counts. Even at the introductory rate, subscription dollars contribute meaningfully to our support and allow us to begin fulfilling, long-term relationships with people who care about Quaker stories. In the big picture, the number of subscribers is important to us, but it is only one metric. For instance, we also look at total audience figures: many more people are reading, watching, and interacting with us online, than in print. And we look at the number of people who make donations to help us further our mission. Both of those metrics have been trending upward (see inset). New donors are coming almost entirely from the ranks of those who are encountering us first online, rather than in print.
As our legacy business model—selling magazine subscriptions to folks and asking some of them to donate a little extra—glides down, we’re working on building a new model around continuing to grow our total audience (the people to whom we’re communicating Quaker experience and providing a doorway into the Religious Society of Friends) and engaging them more fully. In this way, we are looking more and more like a public media operation. There are models known to support this kind of work—“membership” is one common way of thinking about it—and that’s what we’re exploring.
Our eyes are open to the challenge in front of us. And I have faith in the abundance of God’s universe and the generosity of our community as we faithfully and transparently take this ministry forward.
Part of the Let’s Grow Together campaign was to lift up the faces and voices of those new to Quaker meetings, and I have loved reading the interviews we’ve shared in these pages over the last year. I’m pleased to share reflections from the Friends who conducted these interviews: Trevor, who served as an editorial fellow with us for the past year, and Jon, who is a trustee of Friends Publishing Corporation.
—Gabriel Ehri, Executive Director
Quakers need to be paying attention to the stories and experiences of those who are new to the faith. Every person that comes into the tradition from outside has something to bring us, something new for us to learn. As people of faith who are open to continuing revelation, we need to listen to these folks for that revelation. And as a person who is also new to Quakerism, I saw reflections of my own experiences in the interviews that I was doing. It was such a gift to speak with all those that I interviewed, and I hope it was for them as well.
I think what I’ll remember most is the willingness to speak from the heart in the persons I interviewed. It is such a precious thing, and something that can be so easily overlooked in a religious body, be it a meeting for worship or a publication like Friends Journal. There’s such a temptation to think we need to speak in “important” words, and couch our messages in theologians, doctrines, and op-ed pieces. The simple voice that comes from within, unfiltered and unadorned, remains the wellspring of our tradition.
I hope the Journal continues to find space for the spoken, conversational word of Friends that question-and-answer interviews offer. It’s different from the composed, written words of articles and, often, equally or more compelling.
I feel good about the future of the Friends movement, the more I engage with the new generations coming up in our faith. I hope our institutions will encourage these young Friends in the months and years to come. I am excited to see what happens as we pass the torch of leadership—I feel we will all be renewed.
Subscriptions: 6,007, down 2%
Donors: 1,550, up 9%
Website visitors: 251,000, up 27%
QuakerSpeak video viewers: 358,000, up 291%