When The Ecphorizer was started, the magic number was 262. This was the number of subscriptions needed to break even for one year - to pay all startup costs and print 12 issues of the magazine. By the time the second issue was out we had achieved that number, so we set a new goal: 500 subscribers. This number, which we are passing this month [with Issue # 5], represents more than mere survival. It means that The Ecphorizer is here to stay as a Mensa institution.
Like practically every other Mensan, I have tried to analyze what the club really does for its members. Of course a majority still join just for the cachet of membership, the badge of high intelligence. But among more "active" members, I can identify three principal functions that Mensa performs.
- It sponsors and supports formal gatherings with an education slant: the AGs, RGs, Monthly Gatherings, and the new Colloquium
- It encourages members to get together socially, whether sharing SIG interests or just having a good time.
- It fosters a system of written publications, including the Bulletin the local newsletters, and the Isolated M.
All of these functions fall under the general head of communication. Further, they tend to support one another. For instance, inactive members will read about an interesting monthly gathering in the newsletter, go to it, meet some other members they enjoy, and wind up doing the party circuit. In general, it can he said that Mensa brings bright people together, both face-to-face and through written publications.
Today Mensa offers a variety of excellent formal gatherings, and the party scene is alive and healthy. However, the publication area is weak. The problem is that the Bulletin and the local newsletters try to fill a triple role: they act as vehicles for club business (officers' reports, financial statements, etc.); they implement the gatherings and parties by publishing calendars and "advertisements" and (if any room is left) they serve as written media for members' ideas. It is in this last area -- written interchanges between members -- that 'the promise of Mensa" remains largely unfulfilled.
This situation came to a head in the San Francisco group in mid-1981. The San Francisco Intelligencer had gradually expanded to a 40-page monthly newsletter, mailed to nearly 3000 local members; but there was no room in it for other than business reports and activity notices. No more bright ideas, no outrageous opinions, no silly letters. The puzzle page managed to hang on, but the Wine Bulletin got squeezed out after 178 monthly appearances. With due respect to the outpourings of various officers and committees, the magazine got mighty dull. Part of the function of Mensa had become lost.
The rest (he said modestly) is history. The Ecphorizer was born, and its pages now provide a new forum for members to sound off and he heard. Without a commitment to distribute copies to every member (active or not), the new magazine can be experimental and eclectic - light on its editorial feet, so to speak. Writers who were diffident about contributing to the official newsletter send in their best, because they know they will be spotlighted before a critical audience. The independent "magazine of ideas" taps a hitherto neglected lode of Mensa talents.
What works in San Francisco should work anywhere. In a somewhat different form, it works already in the Isolated M. But I believe that Mensa can support many more non-business magazines, just as it supports many regional gatherings. They fill a need that transcends the situation of any one local group.
In five months we have learned a few things about this type of publication. First, it must remain firmly non-business. Any breach in this policy will be followed by a flood of activity notices, political articles, letters of complaint about Mensa policies, etc., and it will end up in the same situation as the newsletters. Second, it should try to stick to ideas and humor, and avoid becoming too "literary." It should try to print, in a somewhat more formal framework, the sort of stuff that gets bandied about at Mensa parties. There have been attempts in the past to start up Mensa magazines of "good" or "creative" writing, but the market for this among the members appears to be very thin. I once remarked (to another editor, who was taken aback by the notion) that I would rather print a badly written article about a good idea than a well-written piece of fluff. I still think this is a successful policy. Finally, the magazine should be competently produced. In this imperfect world, a publication will not be respected unless it is neatly printed and attractively designed, regardless of the quality of its contents. By the same token, contributors will put out their best efforts only if they feel their work is appearing in a setting of quality.
So these are the ideas that have guided The Ecphorizer so far. It looks like we have a good thing going, and we hope to be around for a long time.