Thomas L. Knapp

Tom Knapp is the publisher of Rational Review.


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by Thomas L. Knapp

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.
-- Gospodin Manuel Garcia O'Kelly Davis

There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Rational Review.
-- Tom Knapp

You might think there is, but there isn't. Seriously.

Rational Review has a full-time staff of one -- me. This is what I do for a living.

Rational Review News Digest is produced by myself and three part-time editors, each of whom put in ten to twenty hours a week.

Rational Review -- the zine -- is produced by myself and five contributing editors, each of whom spends time that could otherwise be spent doing something else to provide you, our beloved reader, with fresh content ... and a lot of it. In 2002, Rational Review published about 70 original articles. So far, in 2003 -- just over three months into the year -- we've passed 50 and we're just starting to get "on pace."

Friday's edition of Rational Review News Digest -- which only came into being in late December of last year -- will be its 80th. We haven't missed an edition yet.

Let me expand on that point:

On the night when some nimrod with a backhoe cut my phone line in half, RRND was still published, even though I had to drive across the county and roust a friend out of bed at 2 a.m. so that I could use his ISP connection.

On the night that I spent waiting in the emergency room to find out if I'd had a stroke, RRND was published, even though it meant that Steve Trinward had to work all night at this "part-time" gig, and R. Lee Wrights and Mary Lou Seymour had to put in an extra hour covering the sources I usually cover.

When Mary Lou's ISP went down, RRND was published.

When Steve and Lee had to drive across the country for meetings and were gone for 2-4 days, RRND was published.

Every weekday morning, without exception, RRND arrives in the inboxes of its subscribers, bringing them the day's news and commentary. Making that happen represents somewhere between 50 and 70 hours of labor each week.

It represents me, at my keyboard, from 10 p.m. until some time after 3 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, week in and week out. That's just the news -- it doesn't include writing articles, doing web markup for the zine, etc.

It represents Mary Lou wrapping up her day job, coming home and working some more instead of curling up with a good book or a lonely husband. That's just the news -- it doesn't include Liberty Action of the Week.

It represents Lee, after spending a good deal of time on the publication of Liberty for All, turning his attention -- night in and night out -- to your needs as a news and commentary consumer. That's just the news -- it doesn't include his frequent articles for Rational Review.

It represents Steve finishing a hard shift at one of the several "prole" jobs he works, then coming home and putting his nose to the grindstone until midnight or so instead of working on a new song or just having a beer and chilling out. That's just the news -- it doesn't include his columns.

We've put together the single best daily email review of freedom-related news and commentary available. We've published it without fail and without interruption. We have a hard core of more than 1800 email subscribers and a web audience of several hundred daily visitors for the news page.

That takes time. It takes effort. And it takes money. The hosting fees don't pay themselves. I've gotta eat. The part-time staff and the zine editors do this for love, but they do it for money as well ... there are a lot of things they love doing, and putting out Rational Review has an opportunity cost against doing those other things.

Some of our beloved readers have supported us financially. Some have done so in a small, but welcome way; others have done so above and beyond the call of necessity. They know who they are -- and my hat is off to them. They've made it possible for us to keep this up. Will you join them in helping us continue?

At the end of our first quarter, we're operating at about 25% of the revenue base we need to keep Rational Review alive and vital for the future. That bottom line is about $50,000 per year. Not much to support a staff of six, a daily news and commentary digest and the web's premier journal of libertarian news and commentary on politics and culture, is it?

Let's do some comparisons.

The local daily in my home town of Lebanon, Missouri (I live in St. Louis now) charges $70 a year for home delivery. In my personal opinion, Rational Review News Digest does as good or better a job at covering its "beat" than the Lebanon Daily Record does, and for a subscriber base that is not dissimilar in size.

Our zine side is roughly analogous to other political publications -- National Review ($19.95 a year), The New Republic ($39.95 a year), Reason ($15.00 a year) -- and, after you tear the ads out, we're probably beginning to catch up with them in terms of the amount of content we offer. Of course, you'll find links to the best of their content in RRND as well ...

If 1800 of RRND's subscribers donated $27 bucks a year, or if Rational Review's 11,000 monthly web visitors kicked in $4.50 each, we'd meet our bottom line, no sweat. Look at the comparisons above, and you'll see that either would be a great deal for what you get.

Scratch that -- given our premium programs, it's an outstanding deal. All of our subscribing donors (at $5, $10 or $20 a month) get a free one-year subscription to Educational Freedom Press, as do our one-time $50 donors. Those subscribers get other premiums, too. $100 one-time donors get a free copy of L. Neil Smith's superb print essay collection, Lever Action. $200 one-time donors get Lever Action and Send in the Waco Killers, the classic by Vin Suprynowicz, to boot.

We've got more ways to support Rational Review and/or RRND than you can shake a stick at. Here are a few:

  • Our premium programs, as described above.

  • Our subscribing donor programs, also described above.

  • Our easy, one-time donation links, located in the left column of the RRND page.

  • Our methods for supporting the individual editor of your choice, described on our support page.

  • If you'd like to advertise in our web edition or in RRND's email edition, contact me. You'll be surprised at just how inexpensive it is.

  • I'm doing public speaking now -- and I'm cheap. Contact me if you'd like me to address your group or organization on just about any topic (and I can suggest a few where I have some genuine expertise). If you'd like one of the other editors for your event, they might be interested as well. Let's talk. Every dime I make from this is a dime I don't need to make from Rational Review.

We're going to keep on doing what we do -- and we're not only getting better at it, but planning even more content and feature expansions. In order to keep this up, however, we need your help.

We've found a new, better web host for Rational Review, and plan to make the move some time in May (if you're looking for hosting, check them out, and tell'em we sent you). Access to scripting and PHP database features will allow us to take Rational Review to the next level, and we'll also be able to move RRND to a better list host, without the ads ... but that effort can't be made unless we're secure in the knowledge that the effort won't be wasted because we have to turn our efforts elsewhere in order to pay the rent.

We're starting our next "big push" for new email subscribers -- we'd like to be at 5,000 by the end of this quarter. Your money supports our "missionary work" (and will help "spread the load" in the future).

"The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink ..." wait, that was another Tom, in another time, wasn't it? To wax hyperbolic, however, the situation is nominally analogous. The freedom movement faces many challenges in the coming years, and Rational Review's ability to help it meet and overcome those challenges depends, in large part, on your support. I'm not asking you to spend the winter at Valley Forge, nursing your bloody bandaged feet, before going out to fight again ... all I'm asking you to spend is a few bucks. We're worth it.

Yours in liberty,
Tom Knapp
Rational Review