By Xander Landen
Vermont Life, the state’s signature regional magazine that in recent years has faced financial woes and racked up millions in debt, will shutter its doors in June.
The Scott administration announced it will cease production of the 72-year-old state-owned publication after it reviewed the latest financial reports and learned that additional losses were imminent and seemingly unavoidable.
In the last decade, the magazine has amassed a running debt of about $3.5 million stemming from decreases in advertising revenue and circulation — changes that have roiled print publications like it across the country.
At the beginning of the legislative session, administration officials told lawmakers that, after downsizing the publication’s staff, it expected Vermont Life would break even this year and make a profit of $40,000 in fiscal year 2019.
But Michael Schirling, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, told reporters last week that the magazine’s latest projections don’t look as rosy.
“It was clear to us that, while we can make it in the black for fiscal ’18, beginning in July we would be running additional deficit,” Schirling said.
“If things were different, if there wasn’t a debt already, maybe the equation would have been different, but to continue to run additional deficit spending is not viable,” he said.
Last fall, the Scott administration considered selling the magazine, but ended up rejecting nine bidders on the basis that none would have produced enough revenue to make Vermont Life significantly more profitable.
Schirling said reopening that bidding process is not possible, but starting a new one is not out of the question, nor is a digital future for the publication.
The magazine’s final issue has already been printed and is being sent to its 36,000 subscribers and 14,000 newsstands this week, said Wendy Knight, Vermont’s commissioner of tourism and marketing.
Schirling said the state will retain the Vermont Life moniker and brand and anticipates there will be opportunities to use them “as a potential digital asset in the future.”
With the publication folding, six state jobs will be eliminated.
This session, the Scott administration pitched an economic development plan it hoped would raise money to pay off the ailing magazine’s debt.
Officials hoped that ThinkVermont/MOVE — an effort to lure new residents to Vermont through a data-driven marketing campaign and financial incentives — would generate revenues that could be used to cover the liability.
However, the proposal, which had an initial price tag of $3.2 million, was never taken up by the Legislature and will not be moving forward this year, Schirling said.
The administration now recommends using some of a $44 million surplus the state is receiving from unanticipated tax revenue to settle the Vermont Life debt.
For decades, Vermont Life charmed readers with stories and photography that highlighted the state’s rural, entrepreneurial and recreational culture.
The publication “defined the brand of Vermont” and was known for helping draw scores of tourists to the state, said Tom Slayton, editor of the magazine from 1985 to 2007 when its circulation topped out at about 90,000.
“The basic philosophy behind it was you didn’t have to promote Vermont; all you had to do was present it in an accurate and intelligent way and people would respond,” he said.
Slayton reflected on the news. “It’s a sad day,” he said. “The magazine had a marvelous history and heritage and to have it come to a quiet end like this is very sad.”