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Though the Oxford American magazine has looked like a goner half a dozen times over the years — more a victim of crummy finances than bad writing — fans of the magazine breathed a sigh of relief when the University of Central Arkansas and UCA president Lu Hardin rode to the rescue a few years back, moving the publication to Conway and kicking in several hundred thousand dollars for its upkeep. However, Hardin's resignation last month — coupled with the fact that the OA continues to run in the red — has many wondering about the future of the magazine and whether or not it will remain at UCA.
OA publisher Warwick Sabin says that the magazine is safe for the near future, and that he is working hard toward the goal of making the magazine financially self-supporting.
Sabin, currently the vice president for communications at UCA, took the unpaid job of OA publisher in April 2008 as part of a deal which loaned the magazine $140,000 after an OA employee was caught embezzling half that amount. He said that he has been asked about the future of the OA several times since Hardin's departure.
While Hardin was a supporter of the magazine, Sabin said, the OA was never dependent on Hardin.
Sabin said he hopes the future president of UCA will see the value of keeping the OA on campus.
“The OA adds so much to the reputation and stature of the university,” Sabin said. “It provides extraordinary, unique opportunities for the students and for the faculty to utilize in their teaching. … I think most universities would covet a literary journal with the reputation and respect that the OA has nationally.”
Sabin is smart enough to know that the closer he can get the magazine to profitability, the easier it will be to defend its value if his new boss wants to slash and burn. Since he was appointed publisher, Sabin has taken a number of steps to guide the magazine toward self-sufficiency.
“One of the things that I've really been focused on is straightening out all the financial record-keeping,” Sabin said. “That was a big problem, and really prevented anyone from having a good sense of where the magazine stood financially.” In addition, Sabin has instituted a number of cost-cutting measures, including closing the OA's Little Rock office, finding more efficient vendors, and instituting controls on company spending.
While he has largely taken a hands-off approach to editorial copy, Sabin said that he has used his position to make sure the magazine consistently hits its deadlines (for the first time in OA history, editor Marc Smirnoff has said). In addition, Sabin decided to move the annual Music Issue from August to late November, a move he said just made good business sense.
“I'm having it come out where it's going to be on newsstands and in bookstores the day after Thanksgiving,” he said. “The Music Issue is our most popular issue every year, and newsstand sales double for it. So, it seemed to me that it would be much more logical to come out timed with the holiday season.”
Sabin said he is now focused on increasing income from the magazine's two main revenue streams, advertisements and paid circulation. Sabin said he has taken steps to “ramp up” the magazine's public events and publicize the magazine's status as a non-profit organization, which makes contributions to the OA tax deductible. To coincide with the magazine's latest issue on New Orleans, the OA will host three fund-raisers; two in New Orleans in late September, and one in Little Rock in mid-October — a $500-a-plate New Orleans-themed dinner and absinthe tasting at the Capital Hotel. Later this year, the magazine is planning another fund-raiser in Los Angeles, with several Southern-born film celebrities in attendance.
“[Events] serve two purposes,” Sabin said. “They raise money, but they also increase our exposure and they create a sense of community for our readers, who tend to be very passionate about the magazine.”
Sabin said work to get the magazine on more sound financial footing has been a “labor of love.”
“Basically,” he said, “I've just streamlined the business operation, made all the obvious fixes in the short term, and now we just need to turn the revenue up a little bit, which I think is very possible. Once we do that, I think it will be a self-sustaining operation.”
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