This Week Marks a Huge Milestone for This is True: the end of its 20th year. It started as a bulletin board item outside my office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The first one, dated 26 June 1994, was written to go into my business plan — I hadn’t actually gotten distribution set up. As I was working on the tech, I kept writing a new column each week and, when it went online in July 1994, it was an instant hit, quickly ramping up in circulation.
My business plan predicted I would be able to quit my Day Job after two years of building up the circulation and business. Even before I left Los Angeles, I received — and declined — a contract offer from one of the biggest newspaper syndicates in the world. I didn’t want to give up control (and half the profits), even in exchange for a large newspaper distribution …because I figured, back in 1995, that newspapers would decline in the face of this new Internet Thing.
Boy, did I dodge that bullet big time!
In an early interview (18 August 1997, after I had quit my Day Job and moved to Colorado), I was asked by Dr. Audri Lanford, then of NETrageous, why I started the column. I responded:
- I wanted a creative outlet and to write more.
- I wanted to create intellectual property — something with a long shelf life that would give me “residual” income over many years. TRUE was designed to be timeless, so book collections could sell for years and years (two have been published; a third goes to press in the fall).
- I wanted to create something popular because I wanted just a little bit of fame (I had previously written an esoteric technical book that drew a very limited audience).
- I wanted to be my own boss.
- I wanted a portable job — one that I could do anywhere. On the road? On vacation? Perhaps on a cruise ship? How about in Europe? I believe this will be easier and easier to do with the Internet as time goes on.
- I wanted to make money off the Internet!
All of these came together in a flash of inspiration one night in 1994 — True satisfied all of those desires.
And it still does. Over the years two other things became important factors: the ability to live where I want, and to have a job that’s fun! Believe me, it’s fun to do this. Sure there are challenges and headaches, just like in every other job, but all in all it’s so fun and fulfilling that it’s fine with me to do this until I decide to retire. And I’m not ready to retire. 🙂
Keeping It Going
In a later interview, I called this life the “New American Dream” — and I still think it is. Of course it couldn’t happen without you! It’s an extreme and humbling privilege that there are thousands of people who support This is True with upgraded subscriptions, book purchases, even just getting a stack of Get Out of Hell Free cards. Every dollar of those purchases goes to support the publication, making it possible every week.
In those 20 years, I only missed writing a weekly issue four times, thanks to being too ill to be at the keyboard for the all-day writing session. (Those weeks were filled with “best-of” compilations: I didn’t want readers to go without something to tide them over!) The stories are written fresh each week, not months in advance; even though the stories are usually timeless, I want them to be recent. My rule is, they were published in their source publications within a month previous to the edition they appear in.
This is True has been discussed in countless articles and books, and has been the inspiration for scores of other publications. Some years ago, I was astounded to see how many people had copied my …copyright notice!
Several of those books have noted that while True wasn’t the first online newsletter, it may have been the first online business of any type to use viral marketing, because that copyright not only allowed forwarding, but specifically encouraged it to help “spread the word.” That grew distribution into six figures very quickly, which was astounding in the 90s when few were online. Now there are literally millions of online businesses struggling for attention. Because of that, the free edition no longer has a six-figure distribution, yet those who remain are very attentive readers.
So thanks very much for sticking with me. In return, I’m sticking with you and will keep producing This is True, hopefully for many years to come. Just probably not 20 more.