A determined group of volunteers is working to save the distinguished and beloved magazine of history, American Heritage, and its sister publication, Invention & Technology.
In an era of fake news and slanted history, Americans need a trusted source of information about their past. For more than 65 years, American Heritage has been that source as the leading journal of U.S. history. Over the years, tens of millions of readers (including many students and teachers) have benefited from its accessible, interesting stories crafted by respected historians.
But these are challenging times in publishing, and the magazine was forced to stop print publication in 2012. Since then, a small group of volunteers has kept the magazine and its archives alive. They often paid for web hosting out of their own pockets, and commissioned articles for new issues by authors such as James McPherson, John Eisenhower, Tom Fleming, and Harold Holzer. They built a major educational system, Fourscore (www.4score.org), and created ebook versions of 130 previously published books as well as new anthologies.
But to relaunch the magazine, at least digitally, American Heritage needs to 1) update its website, which is now running on outdated software, 2) build systems to create new issues and new types of web content, and 3) construct a system to track subscribers.
That will enable the magazine to sustain itself into the future and allow it to provide future generations with the lessons (and entertaining stories) from our past.
Telling the American Story for 67 Years
Since 1949, the mission of American Heritage has been to make top-tier scholarship accessible to a wide range of audiences, proving that history can be lively, interesting, even spell-binding. It has won numerous awards including the National Magazine Award. American Heritage has always been apolitical and non-partisan, but tells the story of our nation and the diverse people who built it with respect and affection.
Hardbound editions of American Heritage were an iconic presence in homes across the country. “My family subscribed to this marvelous publication when I was a girl,” writes former First Lady Laura Bush. “I vividly remember the special shelf of white hardback volumes and how we eagerly awaited each new issue.”
Founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Bruce Catton, American Heritage has published hundreds of the nation’s most respected writers including Stephen Ambrose, Ed Ayres, Douglas Brinkley, Malcolm Cowley, John Dos Passos, Joseph Ellis, Eric Foner, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Pauline Maier, David McCullough, Samuel Eliot Morrison, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Barbara Tuchman.
What Happened... and Our Plan to Rebuild
Like many print publications, American Heritage faced increased competition from other media, declining ad revenues, and rising costs.
In 1960, subscribers paid $15 a year for American Heritage at a time when a nice car cost $2,000, movies were 25 cents, and Cokes set you back a nickel at the soda fountain.
In 2013, more than half a century later, American Heritage was still only able to charge $15 a year. That barely covered printing, paper, and postage expenses. The cost of maintaining the subscriber list alone (invoicing, renewals, labels, address changes) was $350,000 a year.
After taking over the magazine in 2007, we cut costs as best as we could and the magazine broke even in 2009. But few investors stepped up to help cover losses during the recession and to pay for promotion and other critical expenses. After print publication stopped in 2012, revenue dropped off to almost nothing.
How can American Heritage keep this extraordinary archive accessible, continue to publish writing by younger historians, and add new types of content to encourage the next generation of Americans to learn about history?
It can be done, but not without resources. To survive, the magazine must:
1) Modernize its complex, 30,000-page website, which was mostly built eight years ago.
2) Hire writers, editors, and designers to help create new issues of the magazine, at least for digital editions.
3) Build systems to publish future issues, and add new content and website features to attract new readers, and
4) Build systems to enroll and track subscribers, and hopefully restart the print edition if subscriber lists grow. This will enable us to continue to produce the kind of respected, accessible historical writing that American Heritage is famous for. If we can build our subscription rolls high enough, we might even be able to relaunch the print edition.
Praise for American Heritage
“I am delighted to recommend AMERICAN HERITAGE to anyone looking for an enjoyable reading and learning experience” —George H.W. Bush, former President of the United States
“A great national resource” —David McCullough, Author, Historian
“Illuminates and interprets the past so one can better understand the present, with grace, wisdom and style.” —Barbara Walters, TV Commentator
“A nation’s history is its memory, its identity, the embodiment of its values and its sense of self-worth. A society that knows its heritage has the faith to face its future. I know of no other publication in the world that captures the vitality of a nation’s history as well as AMERICAN HERITAGE does. It is an extraordinary magazine.” —Henry A. Kissinger
“AMERICAN HERITAGE is everything a magazine of popular history should be – elegant, lively, informative, entertaining, and intelligent.” —Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Historian