Confession of a non-reader

Our family’s mailbox is usually full each day. We receive solicitation letters from a dozen organizations. Some of them we support. Others we don’t. But they write to us anyway.

We subscribe to a couple magazines and receive additional ones because we’re connected to their cause or their organization.

We subscribe to two weekly newspapers and, until recently, we also subscribed to a local daily newspaper. They could have kept our business, but they didn’t and we weren’t loyal. Our subscription expired last fall.

Then there’s the online news. Which. Never. Ends. I could spend all day reading mail, print media and ministry or news websites.

It’s time for confession. I don’t read 70% of the print media we receive. I don’t even glance at it. It goes straight to recycling. A few select items are always read. I never miss reading Ravi Zacharias’ newsletters. In fact, I usually file them for future use.

Some items I may read selectively or skim for something to catch my eye, including the weekly newspapers. But I never read the Lions Club magazine, even though I’m the president of the local club. And I skim much of  Alliance Life, even though I’m the pastor of an Alliance Church.

Well, shouldn’t I read these publications as a loyal pastor and club president? Probably. But loyalty has limits. It’s far better to read because the material is interesting and useful.

That means it’s up to the writer to win readership, not the readers to exercise loyalty. Loyalty is good. I like loyalty. I even count on it from members in our church. But loyalty can be a lame path to mediocrity.

A few years ago, our local restaurant in Clarkfield closed its doors. Some people complained, “If only the local people had been loyal to it, the restaurant could have remained open.” That’s probably true. But it cuts against the grain of American capitalism.

In a free market system, it’s up to the restaurant to win the loyalty of its customers, not up to customers to win the survival of the restaurant. Like it or not, the Clarkfield Cafe was competing with establishments in Marshall, Montevideo, Granite Falls, and even Canby. No doubt, that’s very hard. Maybe impossible. How can a small, local cafe which might serve 60 people on a good day compete with a chain restaurant which serves 60 people in an hour? It can’t, not without loyalty from its customers.

In the middle of writing this, I spoke with my son on the phone and invited him to read my blog. “You can read it because you’re loyal to me as your dad,” I said. “But it’s better if you read it because there’s something worthwhile in it.”

“That’s exactly right,” he said. “And advertising can help. Otherwise, customers [readers] don’t know you’re there.”

Advertising wasn’t on my radar. I was thinking instead about a recent change in my life which made me more of a reader. Last month the  Advocate Tribune called out of the blue and asked me to write a few stories for them.

It has made me more of a reader of the newspaper because now I’m more invested in the product. I read my own stuff first. Then I read other articles in the paper. That sounds self-centered. It is. All writers (and readers) are selfish.

How can small bloggers or small newspapers compete in an information explosion? They can’t, not without reader loyalty. That loyalty must be earned. If we want more readers, we must write well.

Maybe advertising would help. But I think quality helps more. That’s why I cringe when I see bungled writing or sloppy concerts or muddled preaching, especially my own.