Arkansas Life has reached the brink of death.
The free monthly magazine, published by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, will fold if readers do not become $20-a-year subscribers in sufficient numbers, Publisher Walter Hussman Jr. said in a letter distributed with the magazine this week. It has a staff of six.
The glossy will “soon cease publication” unless a “substantial number of readers” — perhaps a little more than half — become paid subscribers, the letter said, adding that since its inception in 2008, the magazine has operated at a loss and still does.
“We’ve depended primarily on advertising support to pay the bills,” Hussman’s letter said. “Unfortunately, that business model has proven unsustainable in the digital age.”
If the subscription push fails, the disappearance of the magazine from Little Rock’s crowded lifestyle, gala and philanthropy publishing market could offer opportunities for Arkansas Times, which is transforming itself from a newsprint weekly to a glossy magazine this month. Other titles standing to benefit include AY, Inviting Arkansas, and Arkansas Business Publishing Group’s Little Rock Soirée.
Times Publisher Alan Leveritt said he didn’t know details about Hussman’s plans for Arkansas Life, but he’s expecting big things for his revamped publication. In announcing the plan to go monthly back in October, Leveritt noted “an opportunity to fill a gap that’s existed since Arkansas Times went weekly — the absence of a monthly general interest magazine about Arkansas that’s smart, lively, opinionated and willing to take risks.”
While Arkansas Life has been admired by readers for its writing and its look, the financial strain has grown as the Democrat-Gazette has cut back on print delivery of its daily paper to the far reaches of the state. After halting home print delivery in northeast Arkansas and parts of south Arkansas while converting subscribers to reading a digital replica newspaper on $800 iPads the Democrat-Gazette is giving them to use, the newspaper informed readers as far north as the Sheridan area last week that home delivery will soon cease there.
Hussman told Arkansas Business that Arkansas Life’s fate is up to readers. “If we can make it economically sustainable, we would continue it,” the publisher wrote in a Thursday email. “In this case, I think readers should make the decision.”
According to his letter, readers who sign up for a subscription will only be charged if publication of the magazine continues.
Hussman didn’t directly address questions like how many subscribers will be required to continue Arkansas Life or when the deadline for a decision will be, but he suggested that more than half would be required to keep the magazine afloat.
“We’re now asking appreciative readers to become paid subscribers at a rate of $20 a year. If most and enough of our readers respond to this appeal, the magazine will continue,” the letter said. “If not, it will soon be gone like so many other printed publications in recent years.” With a reported press run of close to 30,000, “most” of Arkansas Life’s readership would represent 15,000-plus paid subscriptions, some $300,000 in revenue.
In a blog post titled "Save Our Arkansas Life," the editor of Arkansas Life, Jordan Hickey, said the magazine needed enough new subscribers by Jan. 15.
"We're asking you to subscribe," he wrote. "And we're not going to sugarcoat things: If we don't get people to sign up for the magazine by January 15th — just shy of two weeks from now — then it's going to go away."
While Hussman was framing the business decision as another “print in decline” story, other central Arkansas publishers, including AY's Heather Baker, said they have found success in the monthly lifestyle niche despite the fierce competition.
"We hate to see a peer on their way out. But it is in no way indicative of a market that can’t support a monthly lifestyle magazine," Baker told Arkansas Business. "In 2018, our 30th year in print, we shattered sales records." AY boasts the largest distribution in the market at 35,000 copies a month, she said, inviting readers to pick up a copy if they're "looking for a monthly general interest magazine" that's smart and entertaining. "We're still here, and we're thriving."
Little Rock Soirée has been at record levels the past few years, according to ABPG President Mitch Bettis, and Soirée Publisher Mandy Richardson said the market wouldn't be so saturated if no money was to be made in print.
“I don’t think New York has as many publications as we have here,” joked Richardson, who is also publisher of ABPG's Little Rock Family. “We have four or five monthly publications that are in our lifestyle realm, and there are neighborhood publications that also compete for advertising dollars.
"So having one fewer publication in the crowd wouldn't hurt" in the revenue competition, she said, but she quickly added she hopes Arkansas Life will endure.