T. J. ROYAL
The publisher and owner of Our State magazine, Bernie Mann, spoke to the Tarboro Rotary Club on Thursday.
Mann told the Rotarians that when he bought the magazine in 1996, he had been looking "for something else to do" after he had operated a dozen radio stations in North Carolina, Virginia and Arkansas for several years.
He had been advised to "beware" of "no barrier" businesses like magazines, he said, but he looked at the 87-percent renewal rate for Our State, and the fact that it had no direct competition and decided to purchase it.
Since then, it has gone from a 48-page publication with no advertising revenue to nearly 200-pages with many pages of advertising, he said. And, importantly Mann said, "every word in the magazine is positive" about North Carolina and what it has to offer visitors and residents.
"I think it's important to have a place where you can go and there's nothing but positive news" about its topics, Mann said.
He noted that when Our State highlighted conservation work on the Eno River near Durham, his magazine highlighted the people helping to clean up the river, as opposed to highlighting the poor shape of the river.
Mann said he received a call from state Sen. Marc Basnight several months ago, and that the Dare County Democrat said he had read the magazine for two and a half hours, and that he told Mann "'how much more ready I am for the rest of my day'" after reading it.
"(Our State) is an oasis, a chance for positive enjoyment" of the events, people and environment found in North Carolina, Mann said.
"We're showing the beauty of North Carolina, and the history and the wonderful people who live here" through the magazine's content, he added.
At a time when newsprint operations have had significant financial setbacks, from Internet competition for advertising dollars, Mann noted that his magazine has had nothing but growth since he took it over.
Mann said its subscriptions have grown from 23,000 up to its current 156,000 subscriptions over the past 13 years. Its current subscription total was second in the state only behind the Charlotte Observer, and second in its category only behind Texas Monthly in the nation, he said.
Mann added that the 23,000 subscriptions was the same amount the magazine had back in 1941.
Though Our State has grown significantly, Mann added that the publication has turned down many advertising dollars, such as beer, lottery and political advertisements.
By turning down such advertisements, Mann said it keeps the magazine appropriate for children to use at school and to take it home and read it for themselves.
One beer advertisement he turned down had a beer tap placed on the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and he said Our State had not been contacted by the company for advertising since they turned down the offer.
Mann candidly said he thought "most (political advertising) is stupid," but that it is still "painful" to turn away advertising dollars when they're plentiful.
And, he added, that he is "concerned" about the effect of the Internet on his business. But Mann also said he is not as concerned about it as he would be if he was in the newsprint business.
"The biggest benefit for us is that North Carolinians love where they live. ... What we've done is held up a mirror for you to see the state you live in," Mann said.
The Rev. Chris Edmonston asked Mann if he knew what other magazines Our State readers also read. Mann said that it seemed there was more "sharing" of his magazine's readership with Southern Living than others.
Mann was accompanied to Tarboro by Jenn White, Our State accounts manager. He also told the Rotary Club that as a fellow Rotarian in Greensboro, he is "most proud" of his involvement in the club out of all his endeavors.