When I first edited a Baptist paper back in the late 1980s, several state papers had circulation over 100,000 and the largest was at 400,000. Now that top tier of papers (size wise) is between 30,000 and 40,000 in circulation and those papers struggle to keep that number. The largest state paper in 1990 dropped to around 30,000 this year and announced that it will cease publishing a print edition beginning in January.
The question of why print publications have struggled and failed to keep readership has launched a thousand business seminars over the past 20 years. Print is not dead but mailing a newspaper has become a financially challenging endeavor. Mailing costs alone have become the huge factor in changing the delivery habits of some print media. The cost of just delivering the print TEXAN has risen by more than 40 percent in the past five years. I wish I could say our service is 40 percent better.
But this isn’t as bad as it sounds. In the 1980s, churches sent thousands of state Baptist papers to church members who had no interest in reading them. Our higher circulation numbers did not necessarily reflect high readership, and sometimes even represented poor stewardship. Although actual readership has indeed dropped, the numbers were more artificial in those days than today. Like other publications around the country, Baptist papers have to earn their spurs with every issue. A not-quite-so-institutional mindset among our people today means that Baptist papers, all papers really, no longer have the assumed influence and value once granted to us. Contemporary readers have an amazing number of options. And the higher costs associated with production and mailing are forcing us to examine ever more carefully what we do. When I look at an online news service and see that a story was posted three minutes ago, I know that our expectations for immediacy are much higher than they were. Print can’t compete with that. We are forced to expand into more immediate news media.
Here’s what the TEXAN is planning to do beginning in January. Our print edition will continue but will be delivered to you one time per month. Those newspapers will have some of the same content you now enjoy but will be even more focused on the meaning of the news, on pertinent issues in ministry and on ministry features. We recognize that most of our readers are not hearing big news for the first time by means of a newspaper that comes less often than every day. That’s why we’ll take advantage of our longer time between issues to get deeper into what’s happened. We’ll strive to continue to tell you some things you didn’t know in our print edition.
Our new product will be a digital TEXAN. This newsmagazine will come out twice a month and delivered to your email box. You can open it there and read it or go to our website and read it, depending on your preference. It can even be printed out for those who want to hold what they read in their hands. This newsmagazine will be laid out like a magazine and you can turn the pages using your computer or mobile device. The really nice thing about the digital TEXAN is that when we finish with it we no longer have a few days of printing, folding, stapling, sorting and mailing. Neither do we have even more days of sitting in boxes at various post offices waiting to be delivered. A story we put in the digital edition on Tuesday morning could be in your mailbox that same day. This is your source for news that is more immediate and timely. Of course we’ll need your email address.
Most immediate of all will be our new website. We will launch a new texanonline.net late in December and I think you’ll like it. The money we’ve been using to produce and mail some of our print editions will be turned into content here and in our two newsmagazines. We will produce more stories than ever before and those stories will go to our website as soon as they are ready. This will be the place for the freshest news of all. Some of those stories will end up in either our print or digital TEXANS, but many will be online only. Our website will be a news delivery medium of its own, in addition to supporting our publications.
Our mission remains the same. We want to support the ministries of our convention, unify the churches around the ministry we share in common, encourage you in ministry as you see what others are experiencing, and provide the understanding you need to support all that Southern Baptists are doing. The opportunity to deliver our work in a greater variety of ways is exciting, especially as we are enabled to put more of our resources into content.
But we need you to do something for us. We need to accumulate an email list of those who would like to receive our digital TEXAN. Of course you can also add people to our print list but the email list is much smaller in number currently. We promise that we will only use that email list for this purpose—only for news delivery. You can go to texanonline.net and click on “subscribe.” This will give you a message box for our circulation manager, Stephanie. If you’ll give Stephanie your email address we will add you to the list. If you’d like to add someone to the print mailing list also, just give us the USPS address and we’ll do that also. We look forward to you seeing these new news delivery tools and hearing back from you as you see even more of what God is doing among our people and churches.
I’m convinced that these changes will reflect good stewardship here at the TEXAN. We’ll still offer the more traditional newspaper with all its advantages and challenges, but we’ll also open the door on delivery systems that offer their own opportunities. For now, that looks like the best of both worlds as we seek to serve the churches that make up our convention.