For more than 80 years, Arizona Highways magazine has drawn tourists from around the world to visit the state with its iconic images of Arizona.
But dwindling circulation and steep deficits have signaled a rough road ahead for the magazine that’s been an Arizona staple since it was started in 1925 by the Department of Transportation.
“There’s been a long and steady erosion of readers because we don’t have the money to promote,” said the magazine’s publisher, Win Holden. “But this isn’t a new phenomenon.”
Indeed, reports of slumping sales date back to 1981 when the magazine reported the loss of 81,000 subscribers.
But the real problems began about 15 years ago, when circulation numbers began sliding at the same time the Legislature started raiding the magazine’s funds to pay for other projects and programs.
During that time, magazine officials estimate the Legislature has taken between $6 million and $8 million out of the magazine’s coffers.
At its peak, the magazine could boast of nearly 500,000 readers. Now, that number has dropped to about 180,000, Holden said. So what happens next and how to drive up readership is the big question.
Some possibilities include asking the Legislature for more money, shutting down or even selling to private investors. Several years ago, the magazine was listed among state assets that could be sold in a financial pinch.
Another possibility includes repealing a law that bars the publication from advertising. It was believed that the state should not be in competition with private publishing companies. But as the magazine runs into tough times, it could be one option.
Holden said that and the other options were worst-case scenarios. Instead, Holden is looking for ways to expand readership, such as working with corporate sponsors to buy bulk subscriptions.
And, much like newspapers and other privately owned magazines throughout the country, it plans to relay heavily on the Internet in the future. Holden said the magazine is on the verge of launching a new Web site with features to aid tourists and Arizonans with their vacation plans.
Regarding vacations, supporters argue the state would suffer if the magazine closed. They believe it’s responsible for bringing in millions of dollars in tourism money because of people wanting to see firsthand the images published in the magazine each month. It costs about $9.5 million to run the magazine each year, Holden said. It’s run out of an enterprise fund that currently has a balance of $2.5 million after all expenses are paid.
Word of the publication’s slumping sales and problems were first reported about a week ago. Since then Holden said there’s been an outpouring of phone calls from people wanting to subscribe. During one day alone, he said more than 200 calls came in from people wanting to buy subscriptions.
“I think we’re important and people forget about us sometimes,” he said.