Phoenix Books in Burlington regularly sells out of Vermont Life magazine after it hits the newsstand each quarter.
"We didn't carry it for the money," said the store's manager, Tod Gross. "We carried it to be representative."
That is, the store was being representative of what Vermont is all about, which the 72-year-old magazine long encapsulated. That changes with the announcement Thursday that Vermont Life magazine will “sunset” print operations at the end of the fiscal year in June, ending a publication that once stood as Vermont’s strongest calling card for luring tourists to the Green Mountain State.
“Unfortunately, over the past decade the magazine has run operational deficits incurring a debt totaling about $3.5 million,” Michael Schirling, the state’s secretary of commerce and community development, said in a news release Thursday morning. “In the end, given the rapidly changing media landscape… we have decided to retire this historic publication as a print magazine.”
Six people currently make up the magazine's staff and layoffs are expected. The employees learned of the decision Thursday morning.
According to Schirling, his agency, the magazine’s staff and the state Department of Tourism and Marketing “worked diligently to find a way forward to preserve this asset.” Third-quarter financial reports showed weaker-than-expected advertising and subscription sales, according to Schirling, making it clear the magazine could not continue without expanding its debt.
Attempts to sell Vermont Life in the past year fell through. According to the news release, the best response to the state’s request for proposals for a sale would have netted only $25,000 for the state with the possibility of sharing revenue in the future. Schirling said the state projected a $200,000 loss for the magazine in the next fiscal year.
“We made every effort to make the magazine financially viable and position it to repay the many years of debt it has accrued,” Schirling said. “Sometimes even the best efforts aren’t enough to change the reality. As we modernize our marketing efforts, we will be looking for an opportunity to give the Vermont Life brand new vitality using our always evolving digital platforms.”
The state-owned quarterly magazine was founded in 1946 and, thanks to in-depth articles about Vermont’s quality of life and glossy photos of ski hills and red barns, served as an evocative lure to draw visitors to the state.
Vermont Life began a website in 1994, and the news release from Schirling indicated the state will transition more thoroughly to digital “to continue to tell the stories of our great State.”
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said Thursday that Vermont Life is "something that we've all been proud of for a long time," but in her role on the Appropriations Committee she saw how it was struggling financially.
"And we were slowly accumulating debt that Vermont taxpayers would be liable for," Johnson said. "So when we start talking about what Vermont taxpayers are having to subsidize, I'm not sure that a magazine is our highest priority."
Gross, the manager at Phoenix Books Burlington, wonders if the state is "saving pennies but losing pounds" by ending the magazine's print publication for financial reasons.
"It surprises me because state magazines are more marketing than they are journalism," he said, though noting that Vermont Life's good journalism and sharp photos made the publication stand out. "Most states see their print magazines as a marketing tool."
"It seems like a short-sighted decision if it was only about the money," Gross said.
The final print issue for Summer 2018 went out to subscribers this week and will be available on newsstands starting May 15. Subscribers will receive refunds for unfulfilled magazine issues. The state has not determined the long-term future of the Vermont Life calendars, though the 2019 calendars are already at the printer and will be available for sale in early June.
The state will work with the Legislature to pay down the $3.5-million debt the magazine accrued over the past 10 years, according to the news release.
Contact Brent Hallenbeck at 660-1844 or email@example.com. Follow Brent on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrentHallenbeck. Contact April McCullum at 802-660-1863 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @April_McCullum.