by Jef Allen
A couple of weeks back, the New York Times noted in an article dated June 11, 2001 entitled "2 Long-Running Internet Magazines Shut Down", the departure from the daily scene of Feed and Suck, two of the Web's longest-lived e-zines.
This is a notable event for several reasons. First, while both were interesting, outspoken, and often inconsistent and aggravating editorially, both publications were well written and had loyal readerships. Suck, especially, was always willing to challenge convention, even to the unusual center-column format for text, or the use of the comic book-style when making social commentary.
According to the Times, "With about 160,000 monthly visitors, Feed, known to fans as a hipper, interactive New Yorker, operated on a shoestring budget, as did Suck, whose estimated 200,000 readers valued its irreverence and endless self-references to the cybermilieu.
Still, with a tiny combined editorial staff of four to eight and minimal operating expenses, the two publications never had enough of a marketing budget to reach beyond a core loyal readership of a sales force to generate advertising and licensing revenue…(A) total of 19 people were laid off on Friday.
u2018We are solid brands with reputations and readerships that are extremely loyal,' said Stefanie Syman, Feed's co-founder and co-editor. u2018We just didn't have the scale to pull it off'"
I mention all of this in passing, only to note that when we have a business operation with a "loyal" readership base of 200,000 people that can't support an editorial staff of four to eight, the problem is not the content, nor is it a willing audience. The problem is with the medium, and the business model.
The following is an illustrative example of specialty magazines in the traditional print market:
The Audit Bureau of Circulations recently released circulation numbers for the major motorcycle magazines. These numbers are for the final six months of 2000.
According to the report, Cycle World still reigns supreme as the largest bike magazine in America, followed by Motorcyclist. Cycle World is credited with 317,000 readers and Motorcyclist has 255,000.
There are some surprises in the numbers. Who knew that EMAP's Dirt Rider has nearly double the readers of both Rider and Sport Rider? Sport Rider and Rider are credited with 103,000 readers while Dirt Rider checks in with a fairly astounding 201,000 readers.
For the sake of argument, let's get a little more esoteric editorially. According to the Mother Jones Media Kit , for the six months ending June 30, 2000, the magazine had an average paid circulation of 166,688, with 133,538 subscribers, and single-copy sales of 13,796.
Mother Jones, a liberal commentary monthly, has been in business since 1976. A little quick math puts that at over a quarter of a century. One could also surmise that, even though they are socialists, they have turned a profit for someone over those twenty-five years with a larger editorial staff and greater expenses than Feed and Suck. They even manage to maintain their own website, MotherJones.com. The difference is that they use their website as a lure to draw subscribers to their profitable print product, not as an end unto itself.
Let's face it, folks. The only truly successful enterprises on the Internet have other sources of revenue.
Again, the problem is not the content. There's lots of worthwhile content on the net today. The problem is bandwidth limitations at the average user's desktop, which precludes the use of creative advertising techniques, and require the reader to voluntarily wander from the source of the information that they were seeking to follow a banner-ad trail into slow-download limbo.
Assume for a moment that you are watching one of your favorite programs or sporting events on television. Suddenly, a banner appears on the bottom the screen that reads, "Click 99 on your remote control to temporarily leave this program and view an advertisement for a popular household cleanser."
You get the point.
Until technology overcomes the bandwidth limitation issues at the consumer's desktop, advertising-based models will not generate enough profit to support alternative magazines in cyberspace. Subscription fees may work (see: Salon), but the jury is out yet. So far the only place that has been supported by consumers is as an extension of a traditional subscription, ala the Wall Street Journal, where information has a quantifiable time value.
Also, remember this: benefactors support LRC. This daily news site exists because people are willing to contribute to its support, and because the owner and writers for this site have "alternative sources of revenue".
Mama tried to warn me not to become a pamphleteer…
On the subject of pamphleteers, I can't let the month of June go without acknowledging the 200th birthday of Frederic Bastiat.
For those who don't know, Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) was a political philosopher and pamphlet writer of the French Liberal School, and stood in direct opposition to Rousseau. Bastiat believed that there was harmony to the free markets that were self-correcting, and that interference in the markets, especially government interference, with its use of coercion to achieve its ends, was always counterproductive to the best interests of society.
My personal library contains copies of Economic Sophisms and Economic Harmonies, as well as his most famous pamphlet, The Law. Published in 1850, at a sum total of seventy-five pages in printed form, The Law is arguably one of the greatest arguments for limited government that has ever been written. It is simple enough that the layman can wade through it without overtaxing the intellect, and at the same time, it is a profound source of renewal for those of us who spend our leisure time reading political philosophy, a habit only slightly more repulsive to the average Joe than listening to opera.
If you are looking for the one simple document to give to your socialist friends to explain to them why you just can't sign on to the whole "big government" thing, you could do worse than to hand them a copy of The Law. Who knows, they may even thank you for it!
Before I move on, I include one of my favorite Basitat quotes:
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
Which brings me to a topic that I had vowed to avoid, the inestimable Mr. Jonah Goldberg. You would think by now the lad would know better than to step into the fray with the "denizens of LRC", to use his phrase.
Like Cool Hand Luke, he keeps coming back for more, and he got plenty of it during this last go-round. I would link to the articles in reference, but there are too many of them. The poor lad has had his arguments dissected like a frog in a junior high science lab. Just review the archives of this website for the last two weeks to get a flavor of the broadside that Mr. Goldberg unleashed when last he crossed swords with the "lower case l" libertarians that frequent this site.
I almost feel sorry for the guy. Clearly, he is a bright, well-read, and articulate fellow. His principal failing seems to be his conviction that libertarians are really conservative zealots who are damaging to his cause of achieving harmonious reconciliation with his political opponents. We are the "Crazy Uncle Louie" of the conservative family, without whom things would just be perfect.
What Jonah fails to realize is that libertarians are as different from Beltway neo-conservatives as socialists are. We don't choose to "go-along-to-get-along." Compromise on matters of principle is not part of the equation.
As much as Jonah considers himself a conservative, he clearly sees government as the path to solving society's challenges and ills. He never really questions the role of government-as-problem-solver, he only cares about who gets to set the agenda. This is a fundamental area of disagreement with libertarians. The government's ability to legally use coercion to extract its desired results makes it a very heavy hand in the actions of men.
The essays and articles at LRC are not about how to enact legislation, or how to compromise with the liberals on issues of social policy. The "denizens" don't need to play that game. We are not part of the "loyal opposition", sitting across the aisle from our political opponents, hanging out at the same Georgetown watering holes, or getting paid by a neo-con periodical to tow the party line. We can be as judgmental and obstinate as we choose to be, because we write to share and exchange ideas, not to earn a living.
If I submit an article to Lew that he does not deem is appropriate for his site, he will let me know, and I will hawk it elsewhere. It is as simple as that. There is no skin off Lew, and certainly none off me. In the worst case, my spleen is vented.
Like the old town square, Lew offers a soapbox to stand on, so that the voices of liberty can air their views, and the exchange of ideas can take place in a public forum. Since he pays for the soapbox, he can be the gatekeeper. Since he doesn't pay me, I owe him nothing, save common courtesy.
It's a funny thing about people of principle. They usually have "alternate sources of income." It's people with real jobs, earning real incomes, and carrying the real cost of government on their backs that have the greatest stake in the outcome of the shenanigans in Washington. It isn't a parlor game for us.
When we refer to reducing the influence and cost of government, we don't mean, "reducing the future budgeted growth", we mean, "get rid of it." This means bureaucrats will have to give up union jobs and look for real work in the private sector where they will be measured on real results and productivity. This means gutting Washington, and sending the parasites packing.
We would turn Jonah's sandbox upside down, take our football, and go home. That would mean hardship for a lot of people. Libertarians understand that. The current system means hardship for a lot of people. The ones who show up for work when it is snowing, for example. (Those of you who have ever been in Washington, D.C. during a snow- storm understand exactly what I mean.)
Finally, I would ask, who are the true juveniles in society, the libertarians, who look to their own resources and those they can contract voluntarily, or the folks who look to extortion by government to bail them out of their difficulties? By focusing on liberties without the commensurate responsibilities, I think Jonah has got it backwards.
Jef Allen [send him mail] is a technology professional in Georgia. As a reformed Yankee, who has lived in the South for roughly twenty years, he has very little tolerance for Northern sanctimony, or the erosion of individual liberty.