"John [Grisham] is a benefactor, believer, and good soul, but he's not a magazine corporation," Smirnoff says of his figurehead publisher. "He's bailed us out before. [He's] been doing it for many moons and supported us above and beyond the call of duty. [Now, he wants] to pass the baton to a new ownership team. Someone that will be able to commit to the magazine."
According to Smirnoff, the magazine, which has a paid subscriber base of 34,000, didn't begin to break even until the summer of 2001, when they changed from a bimonthly to a quarterly publishing schedule.
"We've been underfinanced from the beginning," he says, explaining that the majority of the subscriber base has been built on word of mouth. The financial shortage is, in Smirnoff's opinion, why subscriptions aren't twice or even triple what they are now. Naturally, an increased subscription base would attract more national advertising.
"We've never really had a business team," Smirnoff admits, "and I've had to step in and handle much of that end [of the business] and I'm not very good at it. We went around the whole thing bass-ackwards. Now we know how to make it profitable." Unfortunately for the O.A., which dedicated the bulk of its editorial space to the exploration of Southern culture, this knowledge may have come too late.
"If we could find [investors] who weren't looking to make a killing but were interested in something that is quietly and steadily profitable, I think there is an audience that will sustain The Oxford American," says Smirnoff. "If there is room on the newsstand for a magazine about poodle grooming, there must be room for one dedicated to this mysterious region we live in."
Since sending out his initial e-mail, Smirnoff says people have offered assistance, though as of yet nothing has been done to stave off the O.A.'s impending demise. "Our contributors are devastated," Smirnoff says. "They've responded to tell me they are all contacting rich friends. I am, at this point, oddly optimistic." n