Changing 'Times' and Prolonging 'Life'

Changing 'Times' and Prolonging 'Life'
Arkansas Times Publisher Alan Leveritt (file)

Don’t pinch Alan Leveritt. If he’s dreaming, he wants to dream on.

The founder and publisher of the Arkansas Times is so pleased with his publication’s rebirth as a monthly that he fears he’s tempting providence.

“We will be out Jan. 31,” Leveritt told Arkansas Business last week, “116 pages, 59 pages of paid ads.”

And that, media followers, is a huge start as the Times returns to its monthly roots. For the last quarter century, it has been a free-distribution weekly.

“I’m kind of stunned at the success we’re suddenly having,” Leveritt said, calling the monthly format a big revenue producer, at least so far.

“Ad sales in the first quarter of last year were the worst in our recent history,” Leveritt said, “but with the new magazine, they are up just over 500 percent. I’ve felt like a junkyard dog for the past several years, and suddenly I’m a golden retriever.”

Equally encouraging, he said, was an influx of website traffic and online ad sales that soared “up almost 700 percent against last January.”

Designers are re-envisioning with a March relaunch date in mind, but meanwhile “ads have just been pouring in,” Leveritt said.

The switch back to a monthly schedule — Leveritt started the Times as the monthly Union Station Times in 1974 before changing its name the next year — was the brainchild of Director of Advertising Phyllis Britton, Leveritt said. Digital Strategy Director Jordan Little and Editor Lindsey Millar “had the idea of vastly improving the design and functionality of an already popular website.”

It’s all heady stuff as staff and friends head into Thursday’s launch party, which will also launch a new Little Rock watering hole, Tony Poe’s Atlas Bar, on Main Street in the SoMa district. The flyers say the new monthly Times “will feature news and politics, culture, food and drink, travel and more,” not to mention the publication’s 38th annual Restaurant Readers Choice Awards.

“I feel blessed and at the same time worried that maybe God just got the wrong number,” Leveritt said.

The monthly switch means that Senior Editor Max Brantley’s work will no longer appear regularly in the magazine, the end of a 46-year run of writing for print in Little Rock. But he told Outtakes he’ll be plenty happy working online on the Times’ long-running Arkansas Blog.

“I’ve been so occupied the last eight or 10 years with digital output that print has really been a secondary thought for me,” Brantley said in an email. “The immediacy of digital is addicting. I think it reaches more people, too.”

Leaving daily reporting would have been tougher, he said. “Weekly publication was always hard for me. I hated sitting on stories. I hated seeing stories mooted or dramatically changed by time and events. I’m just a news junkie.”

Back to Life
In the meantime, another Little Rock glossy, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Arkansas Life, got a death reprieve when 1,000-plus new subscribers promised $20 a year to save it. But it will not endure as a monthly. The magazine, which would have been closed if readers had failed to respond, will become a quarterly print product with monthly online editions. The title has not made money over its 10-year lifespan, Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman Jr. said.

Arkansas Life’s January issue is out now, and another monthly edition will appear before quarterly distribution begins. Total paid circulation is now about 4,500, Democrat-Gazette President Lynn Hamilton said, but since many Democrat-Gazette subscribers get the magazine free, the press run was about 24,000.

There will be no layoffs, Hamilton said; about four or five employees work primarily on the magazine. He added that refunds will be offered to all subscribers, recognizing that some who were willing to pay $20 for a year of monthly editions may not feel the same about a quarterly-plus-online product. “We realized the need last week when we settled on a part digital and part print publication,” he said. “Certainly the right thing to do.”

Heather Baker, publisher of a rival magazine, AY, said she wishes Arkansas Life luck. “I’m happy for them and the support they were able to receive,” she said, describing the subscription surge as “a modest shot in the arm of $20,000.” But if readers are looking for a 12-month-a-year magazine at the same price point, she has an unsurprising suggestion:

“A subscription to AY is only $20 a year, and for that you will receive 12 mailed copies of the state’s largest lifestyle publication.”