It always fascinates me how readers perceive me and the business behind This is True. This is the story of one reader’s …well… “interesting” impression.
This week’s is the last issue (as of now) for seven-year Premium subscriber John in Texas. In response to my recent renewal notice to him, John says:
Here is why I am not renewing my Premium, and am reverting back to the free edition. In recent years, you have (thankfully and with deserved pride) evolved from a bare-knuckles spare bedroom experiment in dire need of cash into a media business. As such, you now need to compare yourself to other media businesses and the value they offer for the dollar. For $2 per month, I essentially get from you a couple dozen extra sort stories and earlier delivery. By comparison… for $4 per month, I get The Daily, a content-rich news magazine delivered to my iPad — much more bang for the buck. I guess technology and my own evolving taste for news has migrated me out of your target market. I do appreciate that you raised my awareness of ZT over the years; I had no idea that nonsense was so widespread!
I hope this little tidbit of subscriber data is informative. Keep up the good work going forward!
It is informative, John: thank you for the time you took to send me your thoughts!
When John upgraded in April 2004, True was not quite 10 years old. I had quit my Day Job eight years before, and had been able to make my living from the publication since. In 2003 my wife and I chucked city life and moved to the rural countryside, realizing my years-long dream of literally “living on 40 acres along a dirt road.”
I’m not sure where the “desperate for cash” idea came in, any more than any business needs cash flow to continue operations. I’d much rather not push so hard in the free edition for upgrades, but when I don’t, they don’t happen. As I’ve revealed before, a really “good” week only brings about a dozen upgrades. (This past weekend there were four.)
But yes, True was in fact operated out of a spare bedroom in the new house that the publication had built for us. That turned into a problem when I started bringing in part-time employees (when my wife stopped working for me): no matter how much I like my employees, I realized that having them in the house was intolerable — the house had become a workplace, and “work” and “life” were so intermixed that I was never able to get away from it.
In 2005, I put some savings plus the advance for the Stella Awards book plus a second mortgage toward buying the house next door — a double-wide on 5 acres with an astounding view — to use as the office. And that’s where I am as I write this.
Does that make me or True a “media business”? Well, I’ve joked for many years that I run a “multi-national publishing empire,” but really I feel more like I’m still running things out of a bedroom, even when, 10-12 hours/week, I have an assistant sharing the room with me. (Thankfully, Becky puts in some hours from home, too! But even combined, my two assistants don’t work full time.)
Still, I have “success” in the manner which I have defined it — not with millions in the bank (which I definitely don’t have — not that there’s anything wrong with that goal), but rather with the lifestyle I wanted. I work really hard (about 60 hours/week on average), and pay fair wages to those who help me, to have that success.
At the same time, I’ve worked hard to expand what Premium subscribers get for their subscription fee (which rate has stayed constant since it was introduced in 2004 — the year John upgraded!), not the least of which has been expanding to a minimum of 10 stories per issue (and often 11-12).
Still, no: I can’t compete with the big media companies, and more importantly, I don’t think you really want me to. You like that True has an independent voice. You like that I’m willing to say what big media companies wouldn’t dare say, since they’d alienate advertisers (who really pay the freight in media! I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet The Daily has ads in it. That publication is decidedly a “big media” one: it’s own by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.)
As far as I can tell, you also like that you’ve been able to get to know me a bit as a person. And you really like that I honor the “unsung heroes” in the Honorary Unsubscribe, rather than give ever-more publicity “pop culture” celebrities that Big Media loves to fawn over.
And while I do have a couple of writers helping me with the stories now, their stories still get my stamp since I edit them, up to and including rewriting them (or at least the taglines) as I see fit. And the writers aren’t so ego-invested to be incensed by it, which means I did a pretty darned good job of choosing them. I keep asking them, “Are you having fun?” and the answer is consistently “Yes!”
And then they get paid. 🙂
Can’t Do It Without You
And through it all, you have made it possible. The Premium subscribers are a major part of this story, as I literally couldn’t do this without them. While the subscription fee isn’t much, in a make-a-living sense, that there are several thousand of you each providing a little every year is what makes this whole thing work.
I may have been one of the first to make a living writing online, having started in early 1994, but the concept of writers selling their work directly to their audience is not unusual in history, where the likes of early American writer and statesman Benjamin Franklin, who was his own printer, sold an astounding 10,000 copies of his Poor Richard’s Almanack per year in the early 1700s. Nearly 300 years later, I’d love to have that many paid subscribers! I don’t, but I have enough that I do consider the publication a success.
Seriously, though, as John suggested I am proud that so many of you support my work: your subscription is a vote for me to continue “telling it like it is” (or, as John put it, to “Keep up the good work going forward!”) And even though I now finally have help writing the stories, my name is still on the top, and I take that very, very seriously: there’s no way I would not edit the stories before sending them to you.
True is, to me, definitely still a “bare-knuckles experiment” — one that worked — even if I’ve moved it out of the spare bedroom. In my quest to bring you “thought-provoking entertainment” I will continue to say what I think needs to be said, continue to rally against idiocy in the world (especially in schools and government), and strive to entertain you at the same time. And I thank you for being such a big part in making it happen.
So, John: I do understand that sometimes people “move on” and drop their Premium subscriptions, and if that’s your choice, I’m cool with it. But I have found that many come back later, sometimes after years. So rather than “Goodbye” I prefer to say “See you later.”
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This page is an example of This is True’s style of “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. True is an email newsletter that uses “weird news” as a vehicle to explore the human condition in entertaining way. If that sounds good, click here to open a subscribe form.
To really support True, please sign up for a paid subscription to the much-expanded “Premium” edition:
Q: Why would I want to pay more than the regular rate?
A: To support the publication to help it thrive and stay online: this kind of support means less future need for price increases (and smaller increases when they do happen), which enables more people to upgrade. This option was requested by existing Premium subscribers.