Ronald N. Neff
Adieu(Reprinted from SOBRANS, Fall, pages 1, 3)
The idea for my newsletter came when I was still at National Review (NR) magazine. Beginning with my time at NR, then with my national exposure with CBS Radio Spectrum and later as a syndicated columnist, readers would write to me asking for more. I left National Review in 1993. A few months later, my friend Howard Phillips decided to give me the 1994 annual Andrew Jackson Champion of Liberty Award from The Conservative Caucus. It was there that I reconnected with conservative activist and entrepreneur Fran Griffin, whom Howard had asked to organize the event.
Then and now, Fran seems always to be organizing something. She had set up a very successful news conference for me and Phil Nicolaides to launch the Coalition to Avert a Mideast Holocaust, a small but worthwhile effort to oppose the Gulf War in 1990. Because of her conservative beliefs and her instinctive Roman Catholic views on just about everything, I asked her if she would be a business partner with me in starting my own newsletter. She agreed, but I am sure she had little idea of what she was letting herself in for.
Howard Walsh of Keep the Faith, an organization that provides recordings and videos of Catholic luminaries, offered his studio to me to record an audio tape to use as a premium for new subscribers. I quickly penned the 45-minute essay How Tyranny Came to America and recorded it. Howard Walsh helped us with a mailing to the 300 people who had attended The Conservative Caucus dinner plus some other names. He also came up with the idea of having Charter Subscribers, benefactors who would contribute $1,000 to support SOBRANS.
Finally we were ready and in September 1994 we published our first issue. Professional editor Ronn Neff, a libertarian Catholic, was enlisted as our proofreader. Our first issue was September 1994. Our press run was slightly under 500 copies. With word of mouth and a few more mailings, we soon hit 1,000 and then 1,500 subscribers.
By the following year, we had enough Charter Subscribers to hold our first annual benefactors party. Without that idea of Mr. Walshs, the newsletter could never have continued as long as it has.
As the years went on, I began to see how difficult it is to sustain a newsletter and make it grow. With climbing postage rates and printing costs as well as administrative costs to keep track of the lists, process the orders, and handle the phone calls, it was more involved than I had ever imagined. However, there were some benefits to me through the Vere Company, the corporation that Fran Griffin and I formed as the legal entity for SOBRANS The various part-time staff members have always gone out of their way to assist me. I am thinking particularly of Susan Roberson, who has worked for SOBRANS. (and a couple of Frans other enterprises) since the beginning.
To Frans credit, she was able to reduce costs down to the bare bone, enlisting the St. Martin de Porres Lay Dominican Communitys print shop in New Hope, Kentucky, to handle the list management, printing, and mailing of the monthly newsletter. She organized diverse promotional efforts to get new subscribers.
I never realized how much effort it takes to have an ongoing newsletter. In my simplistic initial concept, I envisioned that subscribers would pay about $50 each. If I got enough of those, I could pay costs and have a nice nest egg for myself. I did not foresee how difficult it is to convince a lot of people to subscribe and then renew not to mention marketing expenses and endless administrative work for Fran and her part-time staff members. To help us to grow, marketing had to be ongoing and constant. But we always operated on a shoestring and marketing is expensive.
The Wanderer, for which I wrote a weekly column, allowed me to put a little promo at the end of each one. But my loyal partner, Fran, was hard-pressed to come up with the money to do proper marketing.
Over the past five years or so, the newsletter became a labor of love in that it was barely keeping afloat. What I thought could provide me an income in my golden years, was now becoming a worry especially to Fran Griffin, who is the real reason that it kept going. She engaged in a number of fundraising appeals and somehow was able to make ends meet.
I felt that I had to pursue other writing projects to pay my rent. I then learned that, along with our Charter (benefactor) Subscribers, the print shop of the Lay Dominicans in New Hope, Kentucky, was the real reason that the newsletter could go on. They allowed us very generous terms as long as we kept making some regular payments.
Last year we did an extensive subscription campaign that netted about 300 new subscribers. Earlier this year, I asked you to help, and Fran and I both outlined the monies needed to keep the printed version going. With fewer than 1,000 subscribers now, I was pleased when Fran told me that the campaign was going well and that about $25,000 had come in. That is a large amount considering the number of subscribers. However, it is still short of the goal necessary to pay off the debts and have enough to keep going without getting further in debt.
It has become increasingly evident that the newsletter is too costly to continue especially when it is so inexpensive to send my columns out by e-mail. I know that some people dont use e-mail or prefer holding the newsletter in their hands to reading it on a computer screen. The answer to that although I admit it is not the best remedy is get the articles by e-mail or on the Web and print them out to read.
Also, at sobran.com, the articles are more attractively formatted and easy to print.
I told Fran this past week that considering my health and financial concerns, it has become increasingly difficult for me to be as productive as in the past.
Fran had a remedy. She proposed that the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation (FGF) be the depository for all of my writings. FGF could sponsor my columns and articles for distribution by e-mail and the Web. FGF could organize and publish a series of collections of my writings. She points out that it is easier to raise money through a non-profit foundation than it is through a for-profit corporation.
Thus a few days ago, I assigned the copyrights for all of my past and present articles to FGF (excluding my Alias Shakespeare book and my unpublished books King Lincoln and I Shakespeare). FGF will be giving me writers fees and royalties for articles and collections they are planning. Several benefactors have already pledged to make donations to FGF to enable me to have ongoing writers fees for my work, and to help FGF assemble collections of my articles.
With this vehicle for an ongoing promotion and distribution of my works, the time has come to close one chapter and begin another. This will be the last edition of SOBRANS, but not the last of Joe Sobrans writing.
This is a very sad moment for me. I have received so much encouragement, support, and cheer from my many loyal readers over the years. I wish I could keep SOBRANS going, but the finances and my health are compelling me to put an end to this fine little journal and begin a new phase of my life.
I need your prayers as I face declining health, energy, and finances. And I hope you will support the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation with a tax-deductible gift to help them to promote my writing.
Thank you very much from the bottom of my heart.
P.S. All subscribers are entitled to immediately switch to the FGF E-Package and have the balance of their print subscription fulfilled by The American Conservative, Latin Mass, Chronicles, or Culture Wars magazines. For more information, call 800-513-5053 or write FGF@vacoxmail.com.
Article copyright © 2007 by Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.
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