Reports have been circulating the last few days that Jody Bottum is no longer the editor of First Things. The changes on the masthead — listing an “interim editor” — corroborate the truth of those reports.
First Things has yet to issue any kind of official comment on the change — until then, it would be improper to speculate on the reasons for Bottum’s departure.
We at InsideCatholic.com wish Jody Bottum well, a man with his talent will always find a place to serve. We are also confident First Things will continue to provide the intellectual standard for all publications aligned with the great religious traditions of the West.
Religious magazine publishing is a tough business. Few people realize the challenge facing anyone publishing a small circulation magazine like First Things for a specialized audience.
As I learned while publishing Crisis, the cost of paper, postage, printing, and direct mail marketing creates a fixed overhead that far exceeds subscription revenue. Since advertising revenue is negligible for conservative niche magazines, the difference has to be made up by donations.
Ed Capano, former publisher of National Review, schooled me when I first took over Crisis in 1995. He told me that a newsstand magazine must make at least four times its subscription revenue in ad sales to survive. Since NR had nothing like that, it was kept afloat by donations, especially from Bill Buckley’s annual letter of appeal, and the profit from their cruises.
If I had listened to Capano more closely, I would have better managed our growth. As I worked to drive Crisis circulation higher, from 6,000 in 1995 to over 30,000 in 2003, the cost of servicing these subscriptions was rising sharply, as was the cost of replacing the 20 percent of subscribers that were lost each year.
When the alternative of publishing on the Internet became a possibility, Brian Saint-Paul and I quickly did the math and made our decision to “go virtual.”
Whatever the reasons Bottum is no longer at First Things, he had a challenging job, and the magazine itself, while in his hands, always read well.