Continuing our journey back through 100 covers, in the year 2000, my editor, Marcus Huff, and I had a bold vision for where the magazine should go in order to survive. Declining circulation and the declining health of the subscribers was quite worrisome for me and my two partners. Here's a photo of me and Marcus in front of our new offices in Cave Creek, dubbed Clantonville by McCubbin:
An almost daily phone call to our new offices went like this: "Would you take Ernie off your subscription rolls. He died two years ago." A reader's poll flushed out the frightening fact that the average age of a True West subscriber was 67. The average age! The magazine was still being printed on pulp paper. Keep in mind that pulp magazines, all the go during WWII, had begun to decline as everyone went to slick paper. True West and Old West (another title we inherited with the purchase) were the last of the old titles to print on pulp. To their credit, the Oklahoma owners had made a couple weak stabs at converting to slick paper but every time they tried it (running a sample section on gloss paper) the readers put up a fuss and they meekly went back to the pulp. Instinctively, I knew that if we stayed on this path we would be out of business within the year. In addition to the paper, I felt the covers needed serious attention. We came out of the chute in January with a decent cover (see October 22 post), then hit a few ups and downs, but the worst, and the best were still to come.
For the July issue we went with our old mainstay, Billy the Kid:
It did quite respectable business on the newsstand although it must be said we don't get the verdict on these until about four months later when all the returns have come in and the the final tally is posted.
For August we went with John Wayne:
So so sales. This cover may have been too cute for its own good (or, as we like to say in production "too hip for the room.") I did a border painting for the September issue:
The sales for this issue were flat, but a new low, at least in taste, was reached with the next issue:
Our editor, Marcus Huff, had been doing an annual Halloween issue in Oklahoma and he was lobbying hard to do it again, assuring me that the readers loved it. I wasn't so sure, but thought if maybe we found a good photo it might work. This image came from an auction house and was a curiosity. Someone had obviously been goofing for the photo, probably got ashamed of being recognized and put a postage stamp over their head. That's just a guess, but whatever the reason, this cover tanked badly. I am still ribbed about it (see Gus Walker's snipe in yesterday's post), although Minnesota Mike Melrose thought it was a hoot. It's certainly a classic True West cover, although probably not for the reasons I would like. Ha.
For the November, 2000 issue I borrowed an original Maynard Dixon Apache Scout image from Greg and Abe Hays at their Western Art Gallery in Scottsdale:
One of my all-time favorite covers we have done, although I don't remember it doing great sales. Monday morning quarterbacks wondered if it was too murky and dark for effective newsstand sales. For the December issue we utitilized another painting of a Mountain Man:
Another decent effort, but the worst was yet to come. Much to the chagrine of one of my partners, I decided we needed to do a topless gunfighter. That scandalous image tomorrow.
"Laugh at yourself, but don't ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be bold. When you embark for strange places, don't leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory."