In April 2018, two U.S.-based Mennonite publications—The Mennonite and Mennonite World Review—announced plans to merge by 2019. The merger is the result of talks that started in 2016, and originally included this magazine. All three of us face the same challenges: declining revenue from subscriptions and advertising plus the need to build a digital presence for the current age of communication. We each have a unique product, yet all offer a forum for news, opinion and dialogue in the Mennonite church. There is overlap between our audiences.
However, our situation at Canadian Mennonite is different from that of our U.S. counterparts, which is why they are making plans to merge, and we are not.
For us, subscription revenue has not fallen as severely. This is because, within Mennonite Church Canada, we established the Every Home Plan (EHP) back in 1998. Anyone who attends an MC Canada congregation may subscribe to CM through their church. Fees are paid collectively through the larger church bodies. Decline is occurring anyway, but the existence of the EHP has slowed the rate. Today, subscription revenue covers 33 percent of the cost of producing the magazine and website.
CM covers the rest of our costs with advertising, donations and a federal grant called the Canada Periodical Fund (CPF). The purpose of the CPF is to support Canadian content in magazines. This magazine qualifies since it has Canadian writers, most articles relate to activities in Canada, there is an independent board of directors and a paid subscription plan. The grant has buffered us while advertising and subscription revenues decline.
However, we are now in the uncomfortable position of relying on federal funding. We would not want to have to cutback dramatically if we didn’t receive the grant one year. More importantly, we would never want our independence as a church publication to be compromised if strings were ever attached to the funding. (There is no indication that this will happen, but it is something we think about.)
Therefore, while CM is not merging with another Mennonite publication, neither are we in any position to stand still. I like to quote John Longhurst, chair of Mennonite World Review: “You can manage something in decline, or you can build something new, and it is much more fun to build something new.”
We believe a print publication continues to be a valuable tool for connecting our national church family, but the current format is 20 years old. We are looking at redesign options to help it be more inviting, including possibly changing to white paper for higher contrast and better photo reproduction.
We are also considering other changes. Do you have ideas? Feel free to suggest them to us, a member of the board or your regional correspondent.
People of all ages from across the country come to our website. They read people stories, opinion pieces, articles about congregations, theological reflections, and more. They leave thoughtful comments. It is becoming a central place where people in our church can be informed. The collection of stories and conversations housed here helps maintain a sense of national identity, just as the magazine does.
As a next step, we envision a more active social media presence, where we encourage and moderate online conversations about faith and life. Such a role involves taking material from the magazine and discussing it in the online community.
In reverse, conversations that develop online can lead to new story ideas for the magazine. This is a new way that Canadian Mennonite can build on the strength of its grassroots connections with Mennonites across the country, while pursuing the same mission: “to inform, educate, inspire and foster dialogue on issues facing Mennonites in Canada.”
We invite you to join us in building a new thing.
Introducing Nicolien Klassen-Wiebe, Manitoba Correspondent
Nicolien was born and raised in Winnipeg within the faith community of Charleswood Mennonite Church. She just completed her last year of a bachelor’s degree in communications and media at Canadian Mennonite University. She spent many summers working at Camps with Meaning as a counsellor and nature instructor, and last summer she interned with Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba in the communications department. She enjoys travelling and recently went on an eye-opening tour of Jordan and Israel/Palestine. She loves reading, singing in choirs, and, of course, writing!