November 6, 2009
Purpose Driven Reality Check
Earlier this week, Purpose Driven Connection, the partnership between the Readers Digest Association and Saddleback church's Rick Warren, announced a transition to digital online content only, dropping the high-cost print edition.
The final print edition of PDC is due to roll out across the 2009 holiday season. No matter how you look at it, this decision is a hard pill to swallow for Saddleback and RDA.
When RDA and Saddleback first announced their partnership, hopes were (in retrospect) running way ahead of the economic realities of 2009. Since then, RDA has downsized and it is currently wading through bankruptcy proceedings.
The secular press has been rather doubtful from the get-go about a strategic relationship between old media (RDA) and faith-based media (such as Purpose Driven and other mega-church content providers).
Here are comments from a writer for Folio magazine, a trade publication that tracks magazine publishing:
I asked the spokesperson directly if RDA considers the Purpose Driven Connection venture a failure. Of course he said it wasn’t a failure. From an operational point of view, he said that shutting down an otherwise interesting product that doesn’t meet financial criteria “is every bit as important as green-lighting others to go forward.” He also said RDA gleaned “proof of concept” insights into serving a community like Warren’s that’s bound by faith or philosophy.
“We believe that we could take this forward with a community that had a somewhat different characteristic—larger, more open to purchasing memberships, more universal, global, etc.,” the spokesperson said. More open to purchasing memberships. That might be key. This shouldn’t suggest, though, that Saddleback hasn’t had any success from the venture. The church said subscribers to the Daily Hope devotions newsletter have grown to 400,000 since Purpose Driven Connection launched early this year.
If not for monetary reasons, I think the loss for RDA is substantial, despite the positive lessons it says it learned from giving it a shot. It has to be tough, especially for a company that’s now steering itself out of bankruptcy, to watch a product it called one of its most important ventures ever fail after only four issues.
I haven't personally talked with Rick himself about PDC. But he strikes all positive notes in his press release, saying:
"Our biggest discovery was learning that people prefer reading our content online rather than in print, because it is more convenient and accessible," said Warren. "Cell phones now allow us to take content everywhere. And, from our viewpoint, an online magazine allows us to minister to people internationally; provide more content and features than we could fit in a print magazine; create interaction and two-way dialogue; and offer it for free.
"So when we heard the feedback and noticed subscriptions to the print magazine lagging behind Internet usage, in spite of strong retail newsstand sales, we jumped at the chance to go all digital," Warren concluded. "Thankfully, Reader's Digest was willing to help us make the transition."
Some dreams die hard. Others are kept alive by human imagination (and capital).
Just yesterday, I received in the mail news that the Christian Science Monitor, which has transitioned to all-online, was about to launch -- guess what? A new, in-print, weekly news magazine.
It seems to me that the reality check for RDA and Purpose Driven is that they serve different masters. One is profit-driven. The other is change-driven. The partnership wasn't working institutionally.
In the current economic climate, I think hybrids are more important than partnerships. (Think Ford Fusion and Toyota Prius.) This means that a hybrid of old media and new media calls for innovative use of resources, but often does not require organizational partnerships in the same way they were done years ago.
Isn't that what the church might learn from Apple and Google?