In the spring of 1996 the Mackinac Center for Public Policy recommended that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources get out of the magazine business.
Specifically, it urged the Department to privatize Michigan Natural Resources magazine, a newsletter begun in 1931 that grew with the expansion of Depression-era government programs.
Now, the market has decreed what the bureaucrats resisted for decades: The magazine expired in early 1999, a victim of its own resistance to economic reality.
In its report, Advancing Civil Society: A State Budget to Strengthen Michigan Culture, the Mackinac Center pointed out the folly of a department of government using taxpayer money to subsidize a full-scale, photo-filled magazinewithout advertisingand challenged the publication to find voluntary sources of funding.
This had been tried, in part, already. To its credit, the magazine was able to maintain a barely self-supporting positionhardly profitablefor about 10 years prior to 1993. But in that year, $600,000 in debt and suffocating under political mandates, the task of producing the magazine was contracted out to Kolka & Robb, a Bingham Farms-based firm. The Engler administration hoped this would turn the venture around. But Kolka & Robb failed to live up to its end of the bargain and stopped making the $125,000 annual payments to the DNR it had agreed to pay in its contract with the state.
The magazine limped along doggedly, surviving on what the Department of Natural Resources could squeeze from an increasingly cost-conscious legislature, and employing inexpensive college student labor on a part-time basis.
Unfortunately, the Michigan Department of Civil Service ordered the DNR to eliminate these part-time positions and replace them with full-time employees on Civil Service compensation schedules. This sent costs through the roof and eventually drove the DNR to seek outside help.
Although the DNR took the intermediate step of contracting for its publication, the magazine ultimately became a thing of the past. So what is an outdoorsman to do?
Fortunately, there are many private-sector alternatives to MNR. They include, Michigan Out-of-Doors, Michigan Fishing & Hunting News, Michigan Hunting & Fishing, Michigan Sportsman, and Woods-n-Water News.
Michigan Out-of-Doors is a 37-year-old monthly publication of the nonprofit Michigan United Conservation Club, which also produces the number-one outdoor weekly television program in Michigan and parts of Canada and Michigan Out-of-Doors talk radio on WJR in Detroit. The magazine has a circulation of 116,000. For subscription information contact Cathy Beutler at 517-346-6463.
Michigan Fishing & Hunting News is a two-year old publication of Fishing & Hunting News, which is located in Seattle, Washington. This magazine provides important state news briefs related to fishing and hunting in Michigan including excellent reporting of recent DNR news. For subscription information call 800-488-2827.
Michigan Hunting & Fishing magazine originally began as Michigan Fisherman in the early 1980s. Through a series of buyouts it has evolved into its current title and form, which it has held since 1992. Of all the Michigan-specific outdoor magazines on the market today, Michigan Hunting and Fishing is arguably the best of the lot in graphics, layout, and editorial content. Paid circulation is 29,687. For subscription information call 800-283-2017.
Michigan Sportsman has been publishing in the state for 17 years, with a total circulation of 510,000. As with their competitors, Michigan Sportsman is dedicated to the where and how for hunting, fishing, and recreation in the Michigan area.
Woods-n-Water News bills itself as "Michigan's Premier Outdoor Publication." With a circulation of approximately 70,000 (15,000 paid subscriptions and 55,000 copies delivered to newsstands), Woods-n-Water is by far Michigan's most widely distributed outdoor magazine. It is also a seasoned publication, having brought outdoor news to the people of Michigan for 17 years. For subscription information call 810-724-0254.
In short, the demise of Michigan Natural Resource magazine is no catastrophe. Outdoor life goes on, and is covered by a host of private, for-profit magazines that provide similar, if not identical services.
Among the state's many competing priorities, was becoming a magazine publisher a good choice? Given the wide range of private organizations willing to voluntarily risk their own funds to provide the same service, the answer should be an emphatic no.