Birds Watcher’s Digest closes doors

It’s been about 43 years since Bird Watcher’s Digest took flight in Marietta, but the magazine’s doors were closed effective immediately.

“Although we have fought hard to continue to provide the best content, events, tours and products to our beloved birding community, the devastating effects of the pandemic on our business have made it impossible for us to continue,” said a statement posted to the publication’s website.

The statement notes people will be contacted in the coming weeks with more specific information.

“Please keep birding, please keep supporting birds and nature, and most of all, please know how much you mean to all of us at Bird Watcher’s Digest,” the notice read.

The pandemic was the last straw after a series of tragedies affected the digest.

William Thompson Jr. and his wife, Elsa, founded the magazine and it was headed up by their son, Bill Thompson III, for many years.

Wendy Clark, president and publisher, took over the reins at the magazine after the March 2019 death of Bill Thompson III of cancer. Two months later, Elsa died in a house fire on Warren Street in Marietta.

Almost exactly a year later, Elsa and Bill’s son, former Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, died of a heart attack.

“It sounds like a story you’d watch on TV,” Clark said. “We lost three of the Thompsons in 14 months and then the pandemic hit. It’s been extremely challenging.”

She said the decision to close the magazine was made Dec. 22 by the board of directors and the last day was Dec. 24.

The last print edition of the digest is the January/February 2022 edition mailed this month.

Clark said there were several factors in the decision. There was a tour part of the business which was hit hard by the pandemic, along with the loss of advertising. There was also an optics part of the business and there were challenges with selling optics such as binoculars during the pandemic.

Printing costs have also continued to rise, Clark said.

“The past couple of years have brought us to this place,” she said.

At closing, there were three part-time and nine full-time staff members. The offices on Acme Street were sold in June and space was rented in town for those not working remotely.

“Everything changed when COVID hit,” Clark said.

She said her immediate plans are to see the closure through, as well as honoring the nearly 18,000 subscribers and followers. As she also lost her job, she said she’s also looking for employment.

“We worked hard to keep it going as long as we could,” she said.

She said the company which printed their magazine filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, so publishing organizations are all getting hit hard.

“There have been other lean years, and it’s been a tough, but right, decision,” Clark said.

Digest Editor Dawn Hewitt said it was a shock and she is heartbroken the digest has closed.

“In a way, we’ve known that print media has been struggling globally,” she said. “With the pandemic, advertising dropped off and we hoped it would come back and it hasn’t.”

With the increasing prices of printing and postage, “the cost was killing us,” Hewitt said.

“I think we all knew it was inevitable, but we didn’t know it would be now,” she added. “We tried to uphold the legacy of the Thompsons and we did for more than two years after the death of (Bill Thompson III). We worked our tails off to maintain a quality publication and I think we accomplished that.”

She said the content for the March/April issue has been created, but they are planning to post it online. Odds are it will be for subscribers only.

“There were such good stories and we put a lot of effort into the issue,” Hewitt said. “We didn’t want to let the work go to waste.”

She said in the digital edition, there would be holes where ads normally would be, but details for a possible March/April issue have not been set yet.

She said she’s not sure if the website birdwatchersdigest.com will remain up.

“It was such an honor and privilege to work on this wonderful magazine,” Hewitt said. “We all hated that this had to happen, but I think it was inevitable.”

She said she had to give Clark a lot of credit for dealing with recent challenges.

“She had to make some difficult decisions just to keep us operating,” Hewitt said. “She did the best she could, but there was no other decision to make, when you come down to it.”

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

¯ Bird Watcher’s Digest has closed effective immediately.

¯ The print edition for January/February 2022 was available earlier in December.

¯ A March/April digital-only edition may be released.

¯ 12 staff members lost their jobs.

Source: Bird Watcher’s Digest.


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