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McQuiston: Vermont Brand Flagship

Close your eyes and imagine Vermont. Now consider this vision the Vermont Brand.

Other states, like California and Florida, can also be said to have brands, and I think Texas may have the strongest brand - after Vermont. But those other brands also carry substantial baggage, so I can say with some confidence that Vermont’s brand is the best.

Vermont Life magazine played a large part in cultivating that brand. But now that the state has determined it can no longer afford to keep it running, Vermont Life will cease publication.

Expenses have been exceeding annual revenues by a whopping 40 percent. For the last several years it's been losing about 400,000 dollars a year for an accumulated three point five million dollars of debt. So earlier this year, the Scott Administration tried to sell it.

There were several bidders, including Vermont Business Magazine, which I edit. But no offer came close to meeting the requirements the state had set. Because of the expense/revenue issue, bids were low-balled. And the main sticking point for us was a state requirement that all the employees must be retained – which would have doubled our non-sales staff for a publication that only comes out four times a year.

Then the state turned around and laid them off anyway.

Everyone knows that publishing has changed dramatically over the decades, and profoundly since the onset of the Internet. A large staff can be absorbed by the state, but not by a niche publication and, frankly, not by any for-profit enterprise.

To make matters worse, the state must now reimburse subscribers, and the Legislature has set aside 350 thousand dollars to cover it. Once the mailing list is paid off, the flagship of the Vermont brand will be history and both the administration and lawmakers who’ve complained for years about the financial loss, will have ink on their hands.

But often, when a magazine folds, the mailing list is given to a competitor in return for their promise to complete subscription fulfillment. It’s an option that would salvage at least some of the assets and might let the state off the hook for that 350 thousand.

Even better would be for legislators returning for this week’s Special Session to instruct the administration to re-open the bids. Without the requirement to retain all employees, the bidding process might have a very different outcome.