Passing The Hat

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With the advertising market in turmoil and revenue forecasts falling, these are dark days for the print magazine industry. For publishers, the options are simple: Either come up with a survival plan or get ready to fold.

Of coure, no one knows for sure what a "survival plan" should be.

For Decatur, Ga.-based music magazine Paste, it meant reaching out to readers this spring and asking for donations to keep the 7-year-old operation afloat - not the most promising scenario in this economy. As of early June, however, the Save Paste campaign had brought in more than $190,000 from some 8,000 donors and effectively pulled the title from the brink. "We've been totally stunned by the response," says Paste publisher Nick Purdy. "We had never done anything like this before, and we knew going in that it was fraught with risk, but the response from our readers was overwhelming."

Oddly enough, Paste's short-term experiment in mob financing (editors say they plan to return to a for-profit model as soon as the title gets back on its feet) might even end up boosting its ad base in the long run, because what advertiser wouldn't want to tap into an audience that's so committed to a title that they're willing to dig into their pockets to save it? "What they have done in trying to survive is perhaps inadvertently demonstrated that they are something that their readers really care about," says Clark Rector of the American Advertising Federation. "That's something that advertisers will buy into. Any advertiser would like to have an audience that's that involved."

Victor Navasky, director of Columbia University's Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism, agrees. Although the fundraising avenue isn't for everyone, he says, for some niche publishers it could well be a good fit. "What it comes down to is, if you had your choice, do you want to be dependent and beholden to your advertisers or dependent and beholden to your readers?" Navasky asks. "It seems to me the preference would be the readers."

Besides, he says, in this economic climate, any good idea is worth trying.

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