Honest Outreach

This year’s survey shows a large and loyal readership, actively engaged with a print magazine in a digital age.

September 2019

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

My passion for publishing began early as an 8-year-old in 1964. My tools were few and my writing skills were rudimentary. But my enthusiasm was, and 55 years later remains, sky-high.

I remember using my mother’s small typewriter, reams of messy carbon paper, and a pack of colored pencils to publish my little circular, a jumble of neighborhood goings-on, tantalizing tidbits from third grade, critiques of TV shows (“Rawhide” and “Combat” were favorites), and a few random items pulled verbatim from the pages of the local daily paper. I must have thought the addition of national and international news would lend some intellectual heft to my fledgling little venture.

A few more issues followed, on an intermittent schedule, until the crush of homework, organized sports, and school and church events turned those leftover copies into shoebox mementos, soon forgotten. Except by my grandmother. To the end of her days in 1996, three months shy of 90, she kept that first issue on top of her bedroom dresser, under glass, like a prized museum piece.

Back then I knew my audience well: parents, brother, grandparents, great-grandmother, three great-aunts, neighborhood buddies, fellow third-graders. It was a sweet deal: a guaranteed circulation to a friendly audience.

Things are different, of course, in the grown-up world of publishing. Deadlines are sacred. Journalistic standards for accuracy are high. Illustrations and photos must be fresh, clear and compelling. And readers rightly judge each issue on its own merits; it’s not how good you’ve been, it’s whether you still are.

In publishing, as in many areas of life, a big part of being successful is knowing your audience, then delivering what they want in engaging ways.

In the pages of Cooperative Living, we try hard to engage our readers, through interactive quizzes, contests and requests for feedback. But we need more than anecdotal information to deepen our understanding of our readers.

So every three years, we commission a national firm to poll a random sampling of our readers. The 2019 results are in; both gratifying and illuminating, they form a beacon to guide us in this digital age.

First, the best news: 83% of respondents are regular readers, having read at least three of the last four issues. They spend an average of 35 minutes with each issue, a remarkable level of engagement.

After reading Cooperative Living, 82% have taken an action: 52% tried a recipe; 34% saved an article or ad; 25% used information to improve their home’s energy efficiency; 16% cut out a coupon; 22% planned a trip; and 16% attended an event.

Almost 93% own their home, much higher than the U.S. average of 67%. These homes have an average value of $278,000 and sit on tracts averaging a muscular 12.4 acres.

Our readers are well-educated: 74% have taken college courses and 41% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. They also love animals: 63% have a pet, with 46% owning dogs and 32% owning cats.

Two-thirds are women. And in almost identical portions, 47% of our readers are employed and 46% are retired. The average age continues an upward creep, to 63. Our average reader and I share this age, which puts us in the middle of the Baby Boomers, who constitute about half (49%) of our readership.

What to make of all this moving forward? Yes, we live in a digital age, of faces bathed in the glow of lighted screens large and small.

Many of us, though, still relish ink on paper, organic matter pressed into pages at once timely and timeless. Cooperative Living has a lineage dating back to 1946, when it was published in the rosy dawn that broke after the long, dark night of World War II. First produced as a broadsheet newspaper named Rural Virginia, it was an honest outreach from fledgling electric cooperatives to their member-consumers, informing them about how to make best use of electricity around home and farm.

That honest outreach continues today, in our print and digital versions of Cooperative Living. Formats change. Tools of the trade change. But the way to keep the presses rolling, and the e-versions uploading, remains the same today as it was when I fell in love with publishing in 1964: Listen to your readers. Know them. And most of all, respect them.