Thomas L. Knapp

Tom Knapp is the publisher of Rational Review.


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The good news and the bad news
by Thomas L. Knapp

The Good News

It all comes down to this ... our readers love Rational Review and Rational Review News Digest.

After a brief plateau in the 1800+ range, and some attrition (email address changes, etc.) that kept it there, we've begun to grow again -- 1922 subscribers at the instant I'm typing this. We plan to be at 2000 by the end of this week, and then it's onward and upward.

Rational Review News Digest is rapidly approaching its 100th edition -- and we haven't missed a day yet -- at an average of 20 news and 20 commentary links per email edition, we've brought our readers 3,520 stories so far since launching last December 23rd.

"RRND News Digest ROCKS!" -- reader email

And not just any stories -- the most important news and the most timely commentary. I don't believe it's hyperbolic to say that RRND is the single best email news digest available to libertarian readers.

We carry more stories. We're more reliable. We get our product into your inbox early in the morning (if you live in the U.S., of course), so you start your day informed. There isn't any "9 to 5" here at Rational Review. My workday starts about 10 pm central time and winds up (temporarily -- I come back during the daylight hours, too) about 5 each morning. My fellow editors get to bed late and sleep the sleep of the just.

"Keep up the good work. We need all the sanity
we can get in this insane world."
-- reader email

"I want to thank you for running stories of people defending
themselves from criminals with firearms. It's rare to see stories
like that nowadays. Please keep it up ..."
-- reader email

We're not the only ones who are dedicated, of course -- like I said, our readers love us. I can't count the number of panicked messages I've received when someone's copy of RRND got lost in the ether or boucned off a temporarily over-quota mailbox. A good portion of my daytime work is spent dealing with those things, as well as combing through our readers' story suggestions and formatting recommendations. This is definitely a two-way street -- reader input has shapped RRND, and will continue to do so.

"I'm leaving on vacation for about 3 weeks and have unsubscribed
from most of the lists I'm on .... Yours is one which I plan on re-subscribing
to when I get back. May God continue to be with you, yours, and
US! Keep up the great work."
-- reader email

And it's not just RRND, of course. Since last August, Rational Review has gone from sub-300,000 to the mid-80,000s in the Alexa ratings. We've published 57 original articles so far in 2003 -- compared to about 70 in the whole of 2002. We'll pass 2002 some time in May.

We've forged a partnership with LibertyForum that takes our readers to a new level of discussion and debate. We've arranged for our subscribing donors to get free, one-year subscriptions to Educational Freedom Press, the premier bi-monthly journal on homeschooling and other pro-freedom education issues.

We're going places, thanks to our readers and to the hard work and talent of Scott Bieser, Mary Lou Seymour, L. Neil Smith, Steve Trinward and R. Lee Wrights. We really are, as our banner optimistically proclaimed from the first day of publication, "the premier web journal of libertarian news and commentary on politics and culture."

The Bad News

I've made $6.00 this week.

Actually, I've grossed $6.00 this week. After PayPal commissions, call it $5.50. A pro rata share of my monthly ISP bill just about eats that up, and let's not talk about hosting fees.

My fellow RRND editors have made about $3.00 each, with similar costs to account for, from RRND. It's possible that they, as well as Scott and Neil, may have turned a book or two on affiliate commissions and such, but I wouldn't count on it. Steve Trinward pulled in the princely sum of $30 in advertising sales on one of his article pages.

I'm a free-market kind of guy. "Slave wages" is a contentless term, since we're all doing this of our own accord and from love of the job. But, contentless though it may be, it's ringing pretty damn true at the moment.

"There ain't no such thing as
a free Rational Review." -- Thomas L. Knapp

None of us who work to bring you Rational Review are independently wealthy. All of us could do things that bring in more money than Rational Review ever will. It's love of the job that has kept us going, and that will hopefully continue to motivate us.

But. We. Have. To. Eat.

Many of you have made contributions to sustain the publication of RRND, and we appreciate those contributions deeply. Nine of you have committed to a monthly "subscription" payment, and we appreciate that, more than you can imagine. Some of you have literally given until it hurts, and it is that willingness to support a worthwhile that motivates us, when we're feeling down, to get in front of the computer and make RRND happen.

Libertarian organizations are dropping like flies. Citizens of America will be ceasing operations soon. It was the temporary demise of Free-Market.Net that brought RRND into existence to fill a gap -- and, in my opinion, we've long since surpassed that site's daily news/commentary featurem in both its old and new incarnations, by every measurement except, possibly, circulation. Other organizations are churning out desperate pleas for financial support in an economy that's gone south. It isn't pretty.

I don't like asking for money.

The nature of the Internet is that it's difficult to operate on a "pay in advance for content" model (although we do plan to introduce a premium, specialized publication soon). Instead, content providers have to prove their worth and trust their customers to recognize a good thing and support its continued existence.

If you think that I like coming to Rational Review's readers every few weeks to pound the fundraising drum, you're wrong. It's the only part of the job that I hate. But it's a part of the job that makes the parts I love possible.

That's one of the two things that can move me to make appeals like this one. The other one is this: Rational Review is probably the most frugal, cost-effective, non-financially-demanding libertarian institution in existence.

RRND can make it on $50,000 a year. That means that the one full-time editor -- me -- makes a little over $6.00 an hour, on a 60-hour-week, before paying the publication's expenses. It means that the three part-time editors make less than $10 an hour for staying up each night to gather the news and commentary that lands in your inbox the next morning -- after they've worked at their "day jobs."

$6.00 an hour is doable for me. $6.00 a week isn't. $9.xx an hour is decent pay for my fellow editors. Fifteen cents an hour isn't.

It's just that simple, folks.

We're doing our part. Our publication is full-featured, reliable and timely. We're working to expand our circulation so that the load doesn't rest too heavily on any one reader's shoulders.

But even at current levels, if each RRND subscriber ponied up $26.xx per year, or if each of our 11,000 monthly web readers kicked in $4.50, or some combination thereof, we'd be in decent shape.

We hope to reach 10,000 daily email readers and 50,000 web readers each month by the end of this year. That's not an impossible goal, and it would reduce the average needed per-reader contribution to $5 and $1 per year respectively ... but we have to survive to achieve it.

... and here's the part where I shake your hand and try to close the deal.

Will you help?

To our email subscribers: Is RRND worth the price of a movie for two, once a year, to you?

To our web readers: Is Rational Review worth the price of a combo meal at your favorite fast food joint, once a year, to you?

For that matter, would you be willing to save your arteries and fork over the cost of one of those combo meals every month -- especially if you got some extra goodies?

Let's take it from the top ... here's how you can support RRND and Rational Review:

  • A one-time contribution in any amount can be made from the news page -- the links are in the left column. We accept e-gold, PayPal and Amazon Honor System (credit cards work with the latter two).
  • If you'd like a premium for your one-time contribution, we've got'em -- click here for details. A $50 contribution gets you a one-year subscription to Educational Freedom Press. Make it $100, and we'll throw in L. Neil Smith's Lever Action; $200 is the Triple Crown: EFP, Lever Action and Send in the Waco Killers by Vin Suprynowicz.
  • Our "subscribing donors" get a one-year EFP subscription, a copy of my e-booklet "Writing the Libertarian Op-Ed," and other premiums in the future. Click here for details.
  • If you don't like paying electronically, drop me an email and I'll tell you where and how to send cash, check or money order.
  • If you'd like to support an individual editor instead of the whole team, check out our Support Page for details on how to do it.

Thank you, in advance, for helping to guarantee the survival of Rational Review.

Yours in liberty,
Thomas L. Knapp