As we shift and adapt to changing times, we are often asked, “How’s the Press doing?”
The short answer is, OK for now. Although plans for succession have not progressed since last year (despite our ages continuing to increase), the financial picture looks a bit brighter.
Our sustaining subscriber program has gone gangbusters. Introduced in August 2017, we reached 100 sustainers in April 2018, 200 sustainers in March 2019, and 313 sustainers now. Renewals have been close to 100%; once a sustainer, always a sustainer! Many advertisers have become sustainers. Accordingly, 2019 was the first year of a comfortable profit margin, enabling us to make minor investments in new programs. The most notable was one we couldn’t have anticipated—the daily updates to State of the Town: COVID-19 status and happenings.
Once a pipe dream, now the possibility of reaching 500 sustainers seems reachable, and if so, ongoing operations would be assured.
With the advent of the pandemic, we looked for ways to improve our circumstances. As an essential business, we applied immediately for a Small Business Administration Payment Protection Program loan, which would be forgivable providing it was used to maintain employment. Rollstone Bank was incredibly helpful in processing our loan application through the SBA process. The loan was approved and funds were advanced in less than two weeks. Having the extra funds enabled us to bring back a former employee to fill in for a contract staffer who had to quarantine. We are extremely grateful to our friends at Rollstone Bank.
We also applied for a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project. Grants were offered in the range of $25,000 to $100,000, and we quickly imagined what we could do with $100,000, mostly in terms of expanded coverage. A Devens beat, as well as climate change, came quickly to mind. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in obtaining the grant. Apparently Facebook was looking for more distressed publications, particularly those not doing well responding to COVID-19. They were also looking for publications in more economically distressed settings.
That exercise helped us point the way for our next fundraising focus. Until now, we have mostly concentrated on improving day-to-day income through sustaining subscriptions and advertising. What we learned was, the road to our next breakthrough is probably paved with capital. It wouldn’t take a huge amount—$100,000 is probably a good target. If we really want to get serious about broadening our horizons, that could be the answer.
No plans yet, but look for some new initiatives in the near future. Meantime, if you’re a sustainer, please keep renewing. If you’re not yet a sustainer, jump in!