Former 'Vermont Life' Bidders Disappointed Magazine's Shutting Down

May 14, 2018

Days after the state announced Vermont Life magazine would end print publication, the people who hoped to continue the magazine are shaking their heads.

Vermont Life is the state-run publication that for 72 years distributed images and articles celebrating the Green Mountain State. It also racked up $3.5 million in debt.

The state received nine bids last year from companies and individuals to keep Vermont Life going. In January, the state turned down all nine proposals.

Last Thursday, Secretary of Commerce and Community Development Michael Schirling, whose agency oversees Vermont Life, told VPR that was the right decision.

"The best financial position for the state would have been to take an offer that was a $25,000 cash payment, followed by a share of profits over a certain amount," Schirling said. "Unfortunately, for the states to actually have seen a portion of those profits, the magazine revenues would have to have exceeded anything we've seen in quite some time."

"It's beyond my understanding how the state could turn down, you know, not great offers, but something to continue the magazine." — Tom Slayton, former editor of 'Vermont Life'

From the mid-1980s until 2007, Tom Slayton edited the magazine. Slayton says he's disappointed the state didn't take up any of the offers.

"It's beyond my understanding how the state could turn down, you know, not great offers, but something to continue the magazine," Slayton said.

One of the bidders was Adam Howard, a former state lawmaker and the president and CEO of Height of Land Publications in Jeffersonville. The company publishes Backcountry, Alpinist and several other outdoor-oriented magazines. Howard thinks the state's decision to shut down Vermont Life wasn't necessary.

"I really think it came down to expediency," Howard said. "They didn't have the capability to understand the asset they had or how to manage it, and so they just decided to kill it, and that to me, that's a crime."

Commerce and Community Development Secretary Michael Schirling declined to respond to those criticisms.

Howard says he grew up with Vermont Life around the house, so his company put in a bid. His company's proposal projected the magazine turning a modest profit by Fiscal Year 2019.

"As we approached the state, we were like, ‘well, these numbers are pretty conservative, these profits are pretty scant.’ You know, it's not much of a sales pitch but we wanted to be as brutally realistic as we could be," Howard said, "given the track record of Vermont Life losing so much money."

According to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the following nine groups submitted proposals for Vermont Life:

  • Blancel Media
  • Bruce Hallet and Norman Miller
  • Height of Land Publications
  • Lane Press
  • Lighthouse Media Solutions
  • Mountain Media
  • Vermont Business Magazine
  • Vermont Chamber of Commerce
  • Yankee Magazine

Jamie Trowbridge, CEO of New Hampshire-based Yankee Publishing, which puts out Yankee Magazine, says they weren't given much information about the performance of Vermont Life prior to submitting their bid, and says it's disappointing to see the magazine end print publication.

Still, he says if the state chooses to seek partnerships for the Vermont Life brand in the future, his company is interested.

State officials have said only the print version of Vermont Life is shutting down. They'll hold onto the brand and have suggested it could continue in some digital form.

Former editor Tom Slayton says he hopes that happens.

"Vermont Life for more than 50 years successfully promoted tourism and in-migration," said Slayton. "If Vermont state government wants to continue to encourage those things, it needs to find a way to creatively resurrect Vermont Life."

Whatever happens, there's still some work to do to close up the print side of the magazine.

The budget passed by lawmakers over the weekend, which will likely be vetoed by Gov.ernor Scott, included line items to pay down the magazine’s debt, and spend $350,000 to refund subscribers.

The last issue of Vermont Life was sent out to those subscribers last week.

Disclosure: Tom Slayton is a VPR Commentator.