Iconic Vermont Life Cut Short By Commerce

The first Vermont Life cover image published under the direction of new leadership by Mary Hegarty Nowlan, who rebranded to the magazine and brought it online. Shot by Central Vermont photographer Kurt Budliger. Photo courtesy Kurt Budliger Photography.

At the end of June, Vermont will lose its premiere print property for extraordinary photography and writing about life and aspiration in the Green Mountain State. Vermont Life magazine, which for nearly eighty years has produced a record of recreation and agricultural activity in the state, has been unable to convince readers to stick with it: subscriptions have fallen from 90,000 at the magazine's height of prominence.

Unable to turn around Vermont Life's ailing financial fortunes in a tough environment for print, the Scott administration has taken steps to end the print publication's 79-year history. According to Vermont Business, a digital edition of the magazine may sustain the brand online.

Vermont Life, operating under a substantial debt load, had been unable to secure purchase bids that effectively addressed declining subscription, operating deficits and debt. It will end its nearly-eighty year publication history in June when its final edition goes out to its 36,000 subscribers and 14,000 copies hit stands around Vermont.

And yet the property has never seemed more relevant in a dynamically changing state.

Under the leadership of editor and publisher Mary Hegarty Nowlan, Vermont Life navigated at least four significant transitions: a rebranding of the magazine to reflect contemporary tastes, an editorial change of course that drew in new content, a community-driven effort to identify stories of creativity and entrepreneurship throughout the state, and a transition into an online edition. Under mounting pressure from the state to turn a profit while carrying debt and navigating substantial changes, Nowlan resigned in 2017.

This portrait of Michael Hastings, as photographed by Gary Hall, appeared on the Summer 2013 newsstand cover. Photo courtesy Vermont Life

Vermont Life caught our attention with its gripping 2013 profile of Michael Hastings, the young writer with Vermont origins who wrote a damning Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal's leadership in Afghanistan in 2010. Since then it continued to dig deeper than the Tourism and Marketing gloss -- quaint farms, sweet nature, a recreational landscape and an abundant palette -- to define and realize stories about what makes Vermonters tick. Under Nowlan Vermont Life worked to uncover the entrepreneurial DNA of tech companies like Dealer.com, to explore living in the state as new Americans and youth, and to profile a new generation of craft manufacturers like Vintage Steele of Brattleboro.

Despite the pressures and adaptations, there were substantial voices of opposition to the magazine's editorial stance. Among the criticisms of the publication were that its brand and identity were stuck in a bygone era -- rooted in the "past-ure" as it were. While we'd disagree, what seems true is that Vermont Life has not been able to outgrow its reputation as an instrument of state tourism, to transform into a contemporary and loved lifestyle magazine by in- and out-of-state audiences alike.

From the rise of the freelance workforce to the growth of an "experience economy," Vermont has never needed a voice as prominent as Vermont Life as it does now. The effort to unwind the publication couldn't feel more short-sighted from where we sit.

Sayonara Vermont Life, how we loved you!


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