Pulled Out of a Hole, The American Prospect Digs In

The American Prospect faces a challenge: how to shift their business model so supporters don't have to bail them out with another $1.2 million but maintain their identity as a wonky, liberal, policy focused magazine.

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The American Prospect faces a challenge: how to shift their business model so supporters don't have to bail them out with another $1.2 million but maintain their identity as a wonky, liberal, policy focused non-profit magazine. "If we didn't know this before, we've learned it in the last seven weeks: the Prospect has a remarkable franchise among folks who care about smart policy analysis," Jay Harris, the Prospect's publisher, told The Atlantic Wire. "I think that's got to be the core. That's what people contributed money to rescue." That said, expect to see some changes to their business model soon. The Prospect announced at the end of April that it needed $500,000 to survive through May and another $700,000 to make it into the fiscal year beginning in July. After a public effort aided by their readers, alumni, and competitors, they announced Wednesday they'd exceeded their immediate need. "Even having been pulled out of this hole, we really don't want to go back in again any time soon," Harris says. "In terms of initial decisions, you'll probably hear within a month or so."

But what should those decisions include? Washington City Paper's Will Sommer suggested Wednesday that the new model might "include making the magazine less of the snoozefest it has been over the past few years (current top story on their site: 'A Paralyzed G-20'), even as rival liberal mags like Mother Jones have gotten into reader-bait like Game of Thrones super-PAC ads."

Harris, who served as publisher of Mother Jones for nearly two decades, laughs, but said Game of Thrones "reader-bait" isn't likely to be a part of the Prospect's new model. "They've got a very different brand, they like picking fights, and I admire what they're doing. We'll have a Prospect version. It isn't going to be the same thing. I think it's going to be probably by some measure wonkier," Harris said. He's suggested before that there's a lot more subscription money available by comparing Foreign Affairs, which charges $39.95 for six issues a year, to the Prospect, which charges $19.95 for ten issues. (Of course, the Prospect currently touts a circulation of 45,000 compared to 119,000 by Foreign Affairs.) Finding new revenue like that, goes the implication, would help build a model that would allow the magazine to remain truer to its "wonkier" identity. Asked if that thinking comes out of the lessons drawn from their recent fundraising success -- the Prospect clearly has a core group of dedicated readers who are willing to pay a lot of money to keep it around -- Harris agreed, but said it's hard to draw conclusions. He said they're also hoping to invest a lot in "audience development," broadening the base beyond the core. That sounds a bit scattered -- higher subscription rates, fewer issues, even with hopes to expand the audience. That's because Harris says he's really not certain what model they'll settle on. "I think that the way I anticipate this next year is going to be that we'll have a lot of experimentation," Harris says. "We're going to be testing a whole bunch of things, probably not just in the first quarter but throughout the year, and the business model will evolve out of that."

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