If you are a Witness, probably you will have noticed your Watchtower and Awake! magazines undergo some unexpected changes over the past few years.
In 2005 it was announced that, commencing with the first 2006 issue, there would only be one Awake! printed each month.
I recall at the time being surprised that the “faithful and discreet slave” was now giving us less “spiritual food” so deep in this “time of the end” rather than more.
Then, commencing with the January 2013 issues, yet more pages were slashed from the magazines as the public editions of the Watchtower and Awake! were reduced to just 16 pages each. Many have already commented on how flimsy the new magazines look and feel as a result.
These two staggered changes resulted in the overall number of printed pages for both magazines combined being halved between 2005 and 2012. We might well ask, why do the Society’s magazines now contain only 50% of the “spiritual food” they contained in 2005?
Despite the hefty cutbacks in magazine pages, some have argued that there has really been no difference in the amount of printing, since the magazines are now available in more languages than ever before, and circulation has increased.
In response to this suggestion, I went about researching the actual volume of magazine printing required now (2013) compared with 2005, just before the cutbacks were first introduced. The results were eye-opening. Even though circulation of the Watchtower and Awake! has increased considerably, the cutbacks in pages have resulted in a remarkable drop in monthly magazine printing of 39%!
Here is how this figure was arrived at…
For the above calculations I have tried to give as much information as possible so that you can check the figures for yourself.
The circulation figures for the Study Edition were especially challenging to find until a friend stumbled upon the fact that they are mysteriously published on page 2 of the Russian language version. Why the figure is omitted from the English version is a mystery to me.
Does circulation = readership?
While the increased circulation of the public magazines is impressive, the circulation figures tell us little in terms of how many people actually read the magazines. This is because they are handed out freely and quite often pushed on people who don’t want them by publishers who feel under pressure to submit meaningful field service reports.
From my own experience, any Witness who tries doing streetwork with the Watchtower and Awake! will be disappointed to check the nearby trash cans later on to find them peppered with the magazines. And though I once had a sizeable “route” of return visits with whom magazines were placed, none of these individuals ever “progressed” or attended any meetings. For all I know, they could have been putting the magazines straight on the recycling pile as soon as the door was closed.
Though the circulation figures tell us little about the actual readership, they do tell us much about the amount of work and money the Society is prepared to invest in magazine production – especially once the reduced number of pages are considered.
When we run the numbers, as shown above, we see that the Society has dramatically downsized its magazine printing work. As has been previously stated on this website, I believe the motives for this are primarily financial. The Society is desperately trying to slash costs wherever possible in response to stagnating growth in wealthy lands where publishers are able to donate, thanks in part to the corrosive influence of the internet.
Too little food now, or too much then?
In explaining the latest magazine cutbacks, the 2nd April 2012 letter to all congregations (which announced the latest changes) said the following:
“Since each issue will contain less material, it may be possible for more translation teams to be able to translate every issue of Awake! and the public edition of The Watchtower, thus increasing the number of languages in which they are available.”
It is certainly true that the number of languages has increased since 2005, from 150 to 195 for the Watchtower. However, I personally doubt that making the literature available in 45 more languages was the sole reason for the cutbacks. After all, spiritual food is spiritual food. Either it is needed, or it isn’t. If it is needed, then all effort must be put forth to translate and disseminate it as broadly as possible, rather than reducing the amount of it.
To reduce the amount of food available in favor of dispersing it more widely is effectively “rationing,” which is a measure only undertaken in times of shortage or desperation. But this is not how the Society describes the current state of affairs. Consider the following quote from a 2011 Watchtower…
“Another blessing that Jehovah has bestowed upon us is the great body of Scriptural truth. As we feast on an abundance of rich spiritual food, we have reason to ‘cry out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart.’ (Isa. 65:13, 14)” w11 2/15 p19
And so we are left with a number of questions…
- Do we now have less spiritual food than we should have, or did we previously have too much spiritual food?
- If the Society needs to reduce the spiritual food in order for it to be translated, does this mean Jehovah is not sufficiently blessing his organization with capable brothers who can translate?
- If the Society has been forced to reduce its magazine printing operations for financial reasons, can it truly be said that Jehovah is blessing the work?
Food for thought!