New Internationalist

Our History

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How did it begin?

The Internationalist magazine was sent termly to members of the student development organization Third World First (now People and Planet). The editors thought that their magazine could reach a wider audience and approached two major British aid agencies, Oxfam and Christian Aid. They agreed that the magazine could encourage more people to understand the processes of ‘development’. They and their supporters were realizing that simply giving to ‘charity’ was not enough and the idea of a monthly magazine to discuss and debate development issues in a readable way was attractive. The two agencies agreed to give £50,000 for the period l973-76 and set up a publishing company, Devopress, to steer the magazine. The New Internationalist was launched as a monthly magazine in l973. Its strapline was ‘the people, the ideas and the action in the fight for world development’ and it offered its readers a radical analysis of rich-poor world relationships, looking critically at the effects of aid programmes, for example, and providing a refreshing alternative to the mainstream development and news channels.

Early issues included interviews with President Kaunda of Zambia and Bishop Helder Camara in Brazil; Vietnam; drought in the Sahel; and the legacy of Che Guevara. The first issue to attract a lot of interest was August l973, which drew attention to the irresponsible marketing of baby milk in the Third World by transnational companies.

The early years

From the outset, New Internationalist was aiming at self-sufficiency. The magazine was vigorously promoted and its circulation grew steadily. But in l975 things began to teeter: the effects of the 1973 oil crisis pushed up prices; inflation bit. The magazine (virtually all on subscription) very nearly folded when postal charges doubled in the space of one year.

Letters were written to organizations and friends warning them that the magazine would close in l976 unless it received financial help. Fortunately, enough groups felt the magazine was worth supporting and came forward with finance. They included Cadbury’s and Rowntree’s trusts, the Methodist Church in the UK, Community Aid Abroad in Australia and Oxfam-Quebec in Canada. Their involvement meant that Christian Aid and Oxfam could scale down their own contribution a little.

It became clear that the magazine alone would not generate enough funds to safeguard the future. In l974 the group had been commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to produce a press kit of materials to mark World Population Year. This had been highly successful and so in the following years press kits were also produced for the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and UNICEF. Other projects, including participation in BBC television’s Global Report series, enhanced the reputation of the magazine and team.

Meanwhile, the Devopress connection with New Internationalist was coming to an end. In l978 the directors agreed on a further three years’ funding and the financial link with Christian Aid and Oxfam was then severed, although both agencies continued to show their support in a number of ways. Fortunately, by this time the magazine was thriving. The promotional effort had always been geared towards gaining subscriptions on standing order (and later direct debit) and this was providing a solid income foundation. As many other publications foundered, partly because of their reliance on news-stand distribution, the New Internationalist began to look more solid.

The other major change was that in 1975 the organization switched to co-operative working so that it was managed more in line with the editorial policy.

The rest of the 20th century

New Internationalist grew in a number of ways. Offices opened in Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand/Aotearoa and these showed tremendous energy in promoting the magazine. Worldwide circulation grew to 75,000, almost entirely from subscription sales. Circulation growth was largely due to collaborations with other organizations, especially mailing each other’s supporters. Increased circulation paid for improvements to the magazine; the most important being moving to full colour in 1993 and switching to recycled paper in 1999.

Press kits continued, but as these contracts faded the New Internationalist moved into other forms of publishing. The most important of these started in 1982 with the publication of the One World Calendar in collaboration with a consortium of European aid agencies. This led to a number of spin-off publications such as the One World Almanac and, 30 years later, the consortium is still going strong. An important range of books started in 1990 with the publication of The Food Book, which brought together intriguing recipes from around the world. A series of recipe books followed, mainly focusing on international vegetarian food, and these have been highly successful. With a growing number of publications, selling more to magazine subscribers became increasingly realistic, and so in 1988 the co-operative decided to buy in gift products and produce a mail-order catalogue.

Important one-off projects in this era included: a Peace Pack resource kit for anti-nuclear-weapons campaigners; a book to mark the end of the UN Decade for Women in l985 and television films about women and food production in Africa (Man-Made Famine), and the contrasting lives of a black and a white girl in South Africa (Girls Apart).

Increased financial stability in the 1980s also allowed for improvements in the organization. On the staffing side this included switching to an equal-pay co-operative in 1986, and starting a pensions scheme shortly afterwards. Administratively the main change was the purchase of offices in Oxford.

Life in the 21st century

In recent years the traditional marketing techniques of press advertising, inserts and direct mail have decreased in effectiveness and are now only used sparingly. Circulation was maintained for some years by employing campaigners to sell subscriptions in universities and at events. This face-to-face technique continues to attract new and younger subscribers but it is expensive and so circulation has been gradually falling in recent years and is now only about one-third of the peak. All the overseas offices have experienced similar falls and so attention has now turned towards selling digital, rather than print, versions. The first major initiative was the launch of an iPad version in 2013, with other versions in the pipeline.

With books, the main initiative was the creation of the No-Nonsense Guide series in 2001, initially co-published with Verso, but now independently published. While sales of calendars and other annuals continue to be made mainly through collaborative agreements with NGOs, books are increasingly sold through bookshop distributors in Britain, the US and Australia.

Having established a successful mail-order operation, a contract was secured with Amnesty UK to manage mail order sales to their members and other customers. This contract is still going strong and dwarfs the sales to our magazine subscribers. In 2012 a similar contract was secured with Friends of the Earth UK and others may follow. Potential customers still receive paper catalogues but with 70 per cent of the orders coming through web shops, it is only a matter of time before this also goes digital-only.

Editorial and design contracts continue to be undertaken, the largest ones being the annual Because I am a Girl report for Plan International and a quarterly magazine for the Red Cross in Geneva.

With magazine circulation falling, the long-term financial position is now less certain. The digital world provides an opportunity to reach a worldwide audience well beyond what is possible for a small organization with a print publication. Whether digital will provide an adequate income stream is less certain. An annually updated five-year business plan enables the co-operative to monitor the financial situation. Having retained profits in the good years the co-operative has time to adapt to the new digital environment; however, this may require releasing cash tied up in the office building and securing external funding to pay for new initiatives which may not cover costs. The digital age is much more international so there is a challenge regarding how the four country offices can best co-ordinate their activities. Within the Oxford office there are also challenges as to whether the current way of managing the business, with is becoming increasingly reliant on paid interns, is the most appropriate.

From the uncertainty of the early days, the New Internationalist has grown to become a regular part of many people’s lives. Its readers are a lively group and regular messages of support are often peppered with critiques so that no editors can feel too comfortable. This is exactly what the New Internationalist set out to do in l973: to stir people up, to make them question their lives and the way the world operates

History of the legal structure

a) Peter Adamson Communications (PAC) was established in 1971 by Peter and Lesley Adamson; ten £1 shares were issued.

b) Devopress was established in 1972 as a company jointly owned by Oxfam and Christian Aid. The purpose of the company was to publish New Internationalist magazine and they engaged PAC to produce and market the magazine, which was launched in March 1973.

c) In September 1975 PAC changed its name to New Internationalist Publications and management responsibility was widened to include all members of the staff, who drew up a constitution and called themselves the New Internationalist Publications Co-operative. Some staff remained as Directors and had to personally guarantee any bank overdraft. Each member of the co-operative had an equal share in decisions, although any decision with profound financial implications had to be approved by the guarantors. In practice the weekly co-operative meeting took all decisions. New Internationalist Publications was not registered as a co-operative; ownership of the company remained with the Adamsons and legal responsibility lay with the Directors.

d) In 1981 Christian Aid and Oxfam sold Devopress to New Internationalist Publications and the two companies were then managed as one. Since New Internationalist Publications now had the subscribers’ advance payments, no overdraft was required so the financial guarantees by the directors were withdrawn and the organization was managed as a true co-operative.

e) Peter and Lesley Adamson left the staff in 1982 but remained as owners.

f) An equal pay structure was agreed in 1986.

g) This remained the position until 1992 with all profits being retained within New Internationalist Publications. However, being owned by two individuals was not a stable situation and so in 1992 Peter and Lesley Adamson gave their shares to the newly created New Internationalist Trust. Two-thirds of the votes are held by Employee Trustees, being all those who have been employed for more than three years. The remaining third is held by Advisory Trustees, a self-appointing body of (mainly) ex-employees who ensure that the organization stays true to the Trust Charter and cannot change direction without the approval of a large majority of co-operative members.

h) Devopress remains as a company and is used for any activity best done within a separate legal entity.

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