Thomas L. Knapp

Tom Knapp is the publisher of Rational Review.

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Should we shut down Rational Review?
by Thomas L. Knapp

Of all the questions that I've had to answer in my life, this is proving to be one of the most difficult.

Not quite 17 months into the life of Rational Review, it's immensely more popular and widely read than it was at the beginning. It offers more content, more frequently, by more authors than it did even six months ago.

Five months to the day after we began publishing Rational Review News Digest, our email circulation stands at 2,150 subscribers (and another 30 or so who, at any given time, are having email problems), not including those who read it on the web. We've yet to miss an issue. Every weekday except holidays, without fail, RRND reaches its readers.

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What's missing -- and I know you're tired of hearing this, because I'm tired of saying it -- is the money.

Not a lot of money, mind you. The budget we envision to support one full-time staffer (me), four part-time Rational Review News Digest editors and the work of one artist and five writers who do it on a "pass the hat" basis, is somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year.

As I've mentioned before (the numbers change with time), if each of RRND's 2,150 email subscribers forked over a little less than $2 per month, or if each of our web visitors ponied up $5 a year or so, or some combination thereof, we'd be flush.

Folks, we're not even close to that minimal, reasonable expectation. Rational Review's total revenues, annualized, as of this moment, would probably hit about $12,000 for the year, less than 1/4 of what it takes to make this doable over the long haul.

We're doing our part:

  • We produce a fine web publication that is rising to its promise to become the premier web journal of libertarian news and commentary on politics and culture.

  • We produce a daily news and commentary roundup that is, bar none, the best and most reliable available. Nobody -- and I do mean nobody -- even comes close. We're working hard to increase our circulation -- we want to reach more people, and we also want the publication to be more easily supported through donations and ad revenue. I'd love to get the per-reader costs down to $1 a year -- a circulation of 52,000.

  • We've recently moved to a better, faster, more reliable web host and we're upgrading our systems to produce an even better product (readers of RRND's web edition are already seeing more content, thanks to the work of Brad Spangler, who has set us up with Coranto to help make news submission and editing much easier).

  • We offer "value added" to those who support us, in the form of premiums for donations and subscriptions and a paid premium area. Books, downloads, subscriptions to other publications, premium content.

  • We even make it possible to support Rational Review by purchasing stuff through affiliate links -- the bookstore, the gear center, etc. Heck, if you want to support an individual editor, that's possible too; there are a bunch of ways to help out.

Some of you have supported us above and beyond any reasonable expectation. We've had a $1000 donor. We've had a few donors who have parted with $100 or more to support this operation, and a number who've been able to help out with $5, $10, whatever they could afford. 17 of you are subscribing donors who have committed to a $5, $10 or $20 per month donation. Thank you -- more than you can ever know, you've made this effort worth the while, and I don't intend to break faith with you.

Those donors and subscribers are carrying the rest of you on their backs. And it's not working. At the end of every month, I'm not toting up any kind of profits ... I'm trying to figure out just how much longer I can keep the lights on, the phone connected, the ISP paid and cover the hosting costs before I go under and Rational Review goes under with me. The house payment is two months late. So is the child support payment -- and that's where I draw the line.

My family is not going to lose its home so that I can provide free stuff to those who say they like it but not enough to help keep it going. My daughter is not going to visit her deadbeat dad in jail because he followed his vision down the drain of bankruptcy.

My fellow editors are not going to continue putting in 20 hours a week for 50 cents an hour.

It's just not going to happen.

On June 23rd -- one month from now -- Rational Review and Rational Review News Digest will be on track for financial survival, or Rational Review as you know it will cease to exist.

Note that I say "as you know it." I swear by all that is sacred to me that I will find ways to provide content and services to those who have supported this publication at least through the end of 2003. They'll continue to receive Rational Review News Digest, even if I have to put together a less robust version, all by myself, after the "day job" is done. They'll continue to receive access to Rational Review Premium. Web articles will continue to appear, although they'll probably go back down to 2002 levels, less than half the frequency of the new content you've seen in 2003.

Rational Review isn't a democracy per se, but this particular matter does get a vote. Those who want the publication to survive and thrive will vote -- with their dollars. Those who don't, won't.

If you want Rational Review and Rational Review News Digest as you know them to survive, it's time to ante up. You can do that from the support links above, or from the left column of the News page.

Yours in liberty,
Tom Knapp
Rational Review