20 Years …and Counting

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!

Early Goals

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.

And

  • 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

An early This is True logoIn 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.

19 Comments on “20 Years …and Counting

  1. Happy anniversary! It’s been a fun, questioning and thoughtful time.

    I started receiving it within a few months with my Aol address, then Superlink then got my own domain.

  2. 20 more, at least! I’ve been getting for 15. Seems like only yesterday that y’all visited OKC! You should do it again.

    At some point, I will! -rc

  3. I have loved your posts for many years! I think in the early ’90’s my son introduced me to you. He is 12pd.com

    I’m a volunteer for our all volunteer fire department in the Tahoe National Forest. I am currently treasurer — pretty safe position. But I absolutely appreciate all of you and your efforts every day!!! I took the EMT classes — scored top of the class — but when it comes to the actual service, I was lacking. I will help any way I can. Not all of us can be heroes. I love your posts. Please keep them up! Congratulations on a fine 20 yrs!!! Hope you have at least 20 more!

    I wouldn’t say that the people on the front lines are heroes, but we do need folks behind us doing the paperwork, ordering supplies, and making sure everything is ready to go. Important indeed! Thanks for chipping in. -rc

  4. Congratulations on 20 years of thought-provoking, informative and fun (yes fun) True. Every Monday evening I look forward to getting my copy and you never disappoint. Shining a wry light on the world’s ridiculous insanity, bungling ineptitude or just plain stupidity wrapped up nicely in a perfectly tied tagline. Let’s have 20 more!?!

  5. Congratulations on the milestone of 20 years. I have enjoyed (and learned from) every issue.

    BTW, it has been decided that you can not quit producing this newsletter until you become a HU.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. If you feel like 20, going into semi retirement in about 15, we will not complain! Thanks and take care!

  7. Congratulations on your anniversary. I’ve been subscribed to your various publications for a lot of those 20 years and have greatly enjoyed them. As a fire dept employee, I also enjoy reading your experiences as a rural medic. Please keep the news and the stories coming!

  8. Enjoyed the free edition for years and years, finally succumbed to Premium. So glad you make my day twice a week.

  9. OK, I’ll bite: why doesn’t the free edition have a six-figure audience any longer? I thought it should grow and grow and grow!

    The clue is that TRUE started in the early 90s, “when few were online.” There were few things to do online then, so TRUE was used as an example in many, MANY articles about the Internet about cool things to find online. “Now there are literally millions of online businesses struggling for attention” — even though there are a lot more people online now, their attention is divided among more sites than ever.

    Meanwhile, spam has made it harder for email publications to get into inboxes. If I say something like “You can see it with the naked eye” many sites will declare that TRUE is “porn spam” (why else would the word “naked” be in there?!?) and suddenly someone who wants to read it doesn’t get it anymore.

    Last, not everyone wants to be provoked to think. Right-leaning readers sputter that I’m a “far-left Obama-lover” when I nail someone on the right for being stupid, and they see no irony that at other times, I’ve been accused by left-leaning readers of being a “Tea Party right-winger” when I nail someone on the left for being stupid. They both unsubscribe in outrage, even though the bias is theirs, not mine.

    So there always needs to be new readers coming in to sample the “Thought-Provoking Entertainment” and be mature enough to understand that I don’t play favorites: TRUE skewers Christians, Atheists, Democrats, Republicans, cops, robbers — anyone that has gotten themselves into the news for doing something really strange, because I skewer people for their actions, not their ideologies. And isn’t that the way it should be? -rc

  10. Congratulations — and thanks. I’ve never been in one job for 20 years…. I’ve been a subscriber for many years, premium for a few and would not be without TRUE. I have got honorable mentions in a few Tagline Challenges — reason enough for staying on Premium, but even without that I could not go back to the free one. I don’t always agree with your point of view but you always make me think, which is one reason you write TRUE, and why I love getting it.

    Here’s to 20+ more years!

  11. Follow-up to Janet’s question:

    Randy forgot a BIG reason for the drop in subscriptions that is specific to This Is True: Listserv migration.

    Not too long ago, maybe a couple years now, it moved to Aweber, and readers had to subscribe to the new list to continue to get This Is True. Naturally, Randy warned us readers a few times, but only a fraction of the list bothered to do this step.
    Of course, the reasons Randy cited for readers to drop out are among the reasons folks just didn’t bother to sign up anew. And some people were just too lazy to switch.

    But there’s another, simpler reason also at work: Many addresses had been simply abandoned over the years without the courtesy of unsubbing or the ISPs marking them as invalid. (It is probable that some of the addresses were readers who subbed via multiple addresses and never bothered to unsub the older address.) Or they were semi-active, but dormant during the transition.

    So, the switch purged out the bulk of the list bloat, leaving Randy with a leaner, cheaper list to administer, and his advertisers get a smaller but more concentrated pool of engaged readers to appeal to.

    Pretty much win-win-win. 🙂

    Yes it was. If they were “too lazy” to resubscribe they’re too lazy to read. So yes, more engaged, and more active. But you know the crazy thing? It wasn’t a couple of years ago, it was a little more than four years ago! Time flies when you’re having fun. -rc

  12. Randy – good on ya! I am a long time reader and esp. enjoy your post about the “fools running our schools”.

    Plz write some more about gun ownership … and gun rights.

    It’s important for people to understand that gov’t control is about losing individual rights — left or right.

    Another 20 yrs should be easy!

    I’m not sure how much more about guns I can write. But you know when a topic falls in my lap, I’m not afraid to write about it. I just need support when I do: no matter which side I take (or even if I don’t take sites!), writing plain truth causes some readers to leave. Those readers need to be replaced, which means I need your help to find them. Word of mouth is vital. -rc

  13. Just wanted to say Congratulations! But more importantly, I wanted to say Thank You. I have been a subscriber to True for quite some time now — at least a decade or so — and look forward to your weekly insights into the lunacy that drives our world. Thank you for being a voice of reason in a world herded on by 24-hour “news” channels that spend hours, and sometimes days, spewing the same rhetoric over and over. Thank you for being a bright spot in my week.

    Most of all, thank you for coming up with the amazing GOOHF cards! I hand them out to my favorite customers, and they usually garner an unexpected response in the community in which I work that is dominated by ultra-conservative Mormons. Most people “get it”, and hopefully I’ve been able to drive some new subscribers your way.

    So thank you, and here’s looking forward to another 20 years, which will put me in my 70’s!

  14. Congratulations, and thank you for running This Is True. I’ve greatly enjoyed it over the years since my sister got me started. This Is True is one of the things I genuinely look forward to every week. I enjoy your slant on things and your broad coverage. I’ve learned things that I never expected and seen lines of reasoning that I would never have encountered otherwise.

  15. WOW! It’s been TWENTY YEARS! I honestly don’t remember exactly when I first read true. But its been a LONG time.

    I too ‘work’ for my audience (I’m a magician). I STILL get people asking me why I don’t have a ‘real job’ LOL. There is nothing better in life than to have a ‘job’ you love and make good money doing it.

    Happy Birthday TRUE! And please keep up the good work. (I hope that when you DO eventually retire, that you will have somebody as dedicated to ‘pass the torch’ to.

  16. I can’t believe you said that! You know you’re going to HELL for not thinking the exact way I think you should …

    Oh wait, that’s already been done! 😉

    Congratulations on 20 years. 🙂

    Said what? -rc

  17. CONGRATULATIONS!!

    Here’s hoping for 20 more years of laughs, groans, and thoughtful discussion of important issues.

    Keep on making me think. I’m beginning to like it!

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