Jun 22, 2021 - Economy & Business

Rich Lowry to hand off National Review’s print magazine, take on editor-in-chief role

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru, Credit: Karen Morneau, Amber Schwartz

Rich Lowry, the longtime editor of the conservative opinion magazine National Review, is stepping down from his role overseeing the print publication to focus on more strategic long-term initiatives as the company's editor-in-chief, Lowry tells Axios.

  • Ramesh Ponnuru, a longtime editor with the outlet, will lead the magazine.

Why it matters: The transition comes amid a growth period for the 65-year-old magazine and now-digital media outlet.

By the numbers: National Review has roughly 110,000 subscribers, about half of which are digital. It's increased digital subscriptions about 30% over the last year.

  • Total revenue has been up about 20% over the last year, per Lowry, who cited the company's growth in circulation, podcast and email revenue.
  • "A few years ago, we had an overall operating loss of almost $2 million," Lowry says. "We have closed the gap considerably the last couple of years and are now much closer to break even."
  • The company, which is a subsidiary of the nonprofit National Review Institute (NRI), has raised more than $1 million over the last year in small-dollar donations from its readers — most of it over the last three months.

Details: In Lowry's new role as editor-in-chief, he will continue to be responsible for overall editorial policy while focusing more on long-term strategic efforts — including building relationships within the conservative movement and with the outlet's donors, as well as doing more speaking engagements.

  • Lowry says he will be focused on carrying out National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr.'s mission by keeping the magazine "up to his standards intellectually in terms of its integrity and courage."

Ponnuru has covered national politics and policy for National Review for over two decades. He is also a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

  • "I'm excited to be taking the helm of the magazine at a time when there are so many fundamental debates going on among conservatives," Ponnuru says.
  • "One of the things that's great about this moment is that we're in great financial condition, which opens up new possibilities," he adds.
  • Ponnuru says he wants to focus on making the magazine "more visually pleasing and intellectually compelling." He says the company is thinking about doing a redesign.

The big picture: National Review, with the help of support from its audience, has been able to weather what has been a challenging time for companies that started out in print media.

  • "We're beginning to get to a place where we'll be at our historical level of print magazine subscriptions, but it will be a mix of print and digital," Lowry says.
  • National Review launched NRPlus, its digital subscription program, in 2018.
  • Ponnuru cites the loyalty of the company's readers for much of National Review's success. "We tend to have pretty loyal readers who give us a pretty strong renewal rate and who also will contribute when we're pinched."

The bottom line: "I've done this since the beginning of 1998," Lowry says. "Ramesh had a hankering to write less and do more editing and it seemed to be a good time to do it."

What's next: The changes will take place in January. "We have time to do a smooth transition," Ponnuru says.

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