February/march 1985 | Volume 36, Issue 2
This is the first full issue of American Heritage 1 have presided over as publisher, and I’m happy to have a chance to say a few words at the beginning of it. I won’t be doing this often: the publisher’s job is not to address a magazine’s audience. It is, rather, to worry about the magazine’s viability in the same way the editor worries about its content. By viability I mean commercial viability—the magazine’s ability to survive and prosper in a very crowded marketplace. Our editor sees this publication as art, passion, intellect, and enlightenment—even as a public service of sorts; and the choice and slant of its stories is determined without regard for any special interests. I, on the other hand, see it as a selling job.
It is entirely proper that Byron Dobell should resist regarding his work my way. More than that, it is necessary. When an editor begins to color the copy in his or her magazine in hopes of wooing a particular advertiser, the whole thing begins to ring false. If the editor keeps at it, he will quickly begin to chase off readers. And, ironically, the advertisers themselves will—more slowly but just as inevitably—feel uncomfortable, and then they will shy away too.
The selling job I mentioned has two parts: I must bring new readers to the magazine, and at the same time I have to show would-be advertisers why this particular publication will be a good forum for them. With American Heritage, this latter task includes explaining how loyal our readers have been over the years. Seventy-four percent of our subscribers sign up again each year, a renewal rate that is almost without parallel in the industry. It reflects their commitment to the magazine, and suggests another facet of our readers that I will be bringing to the advertisers’ attention: their really remarkable involvement with the magazine. This shows up dramatically in the amount and quality of mail that our stories generate. Many magazines with circulations twice as large don’t come close to inspiring such a volume of reader comment.
I’m amazed, too, at the number of readers who own complete collections of issues. To keep a growing set of magazines in one’s home over the course of many years testifies to your high valuation of the nature of the magazine.
It’s not likely, then, that many of you will miss the fact that American Heritage looks different this month. I am glad to find that my arrival has coincided with some positive changes in the appearance of the magazine. Beginning with this issue, we will present a fresh new design. The revamping has been carried out by designer Robert Ciano and by our art director, Beth Whitaker.
For some, any change is a bit unsettling at first, but there is historical precedent for it. The magazine that was founded in 1954 reflected the graphic taste of the day; as the years went by, our design evolved in both small and large ways. Our new look would only appear startling if juxtaposed with that of our early issues; compared with the recent past, it is an evolutionary step toward the goal of a more readable text and more attractive pictures. I’m confident you’ll agree.