Southern Religion

Church publications go postal

USPS eagle down

Denominational publications, for decades declining steadily in circulation, depend upon the U.S. Postal Service to get their paper out to subscribers while time-sensitive church announcements still have meaning.

Already a problem-plagued process, writes Karin Hamilton, it is one that will be seriously complicated if the USPS cuts six-day-a-week mail delivery to five.

Certainly accelerating the decline in circulation by publications like The Alabama Baptist, the North Carolina Biblical Recorder, the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter [graph of state Southern Baptist newspaper circulation at bottom].

Hamilton writes:

Last fall, the [Alabama Baptist] newspaper was reaching members of Eastside Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., two to three weeks late, said Pastor Mark Smith. Parishioners even approached him about removing their names from the newsletter mailing list to avoid further waste of the church’s resources.

You can’t tell from Hamilton’s story, but the circulation of subsidized religious publications has closely paralleled that of their dying mainstream media cousins in speed and resistance to reversal.

Their ad revenue has likewise been falling.

Falling revenue has, as with other recession-plagued religious organizations — whether ministries, seminaries or nondenominational enterprises — forced staff and other cutbacks on the ecclesiastical press.

Their hope of any kind of Web-driven rebound, even after the current recession, is on the whole worse than for their mainstream cousins.

Lacking heavy marketplace pressure, the ecclesiastical press has on the whole adapted even less well to the rise of the Web than its for-profit kinfolk. The Christian Science Monitor’s shift from print to a Web-based strategy, with a high-quality Web product to support it, is the shining exception.

Among the less well-known, some which were once technological leaders have reversed field to give up, for example, an early adopter social-networking system advantage.

Ultimately it is no more USPS changes that will do in denominational publications than it is bloggers that will kill off so much of the mainstream media.

In an era of rapid change, inflexibility will finally kill even the heavily subsidized.

Addendum: State Southern Baptist newspapers in aggregate

Circulation trends among state Southern Baptist  newspapers in aggregate are well-documented.

For example, circulation trends among state Southern Baptist newspapers in aggregate are well-documented. The downward trend has continued since this graph was published, carrying them below 1947 levels. Their problems are complicated by the fact that the state-by-state geographical distribution for which they were created on paper has relatively little bearing on the Web. There are multiple state organizations to cover but the Web market is unlikely to sustain an equal number of publications, especially not as the Southern Baptist Convention continues to fracture.

February 10, 2009 Posted by | Religion, WWW | , , , , | 1 Comment