Cut Out the Middleman

While Looking for Something Else, I came across this letter from a reader dated May 30 …2005:

I was just sitting here at work and found myself eagerly anticipating your next issue, which is about to arrive in 30 minutes. I thought I’d send you a compliment on this since most things in my life are not interesting enough for me to actually wait in anticipation of them. I love your work. Very consistently well done.

Not only was Russell in California waiting, he was waiting at work — and the time stamp on his message was 7:41 p.m. By that point, Russell had been a Premium subscriber for more than six years. And here today, ten years later, he’s still a Premium subscriber, with no lapses in his subscription.

He’s not even the longest Premium subscriber; there are many more who have been getting True for big chunks of their lives. That’s what the Internet has enabled for writers, and it’s a huge shift in the way things were.

The Patronage System

Before the Internet, writers had to have a publisher, or maybe a rich patron or two, to fund their work. True has thousands of supporting patrons, but instead of putting up big money, they put up just a little bit each, and it makes True possible.

Beethoven’s patron Archduke Rudolph, the youngest son of Emperor Leopold II. The great composer dedicated 14 compositions to Rudolph, including the Archduke Trio and Missa Solemnis (1823). Beethoven also had to give him piano lessons!

Here’s the problem with having one rich patron: he might try to dictate the content. “Do more zero tolerance stories,” maybe, even if I think they need to be spread out more. Or “Don’t ever make fun of atheists again!” It’s hard to resist such demands when you only have one backer, or even two or three.

But when you have two or three thousand? That’s liberating: now I can write the way I want. Sure it’s possible to make one mad, but having him close his wallet and stomp away won’t force me to to spend my days asking everyone I meet, “Would you like fries with that?” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I’ve worked in food service too. But I think I can do more for the world here!)

Surely you can see how that’s truly liberating.

“Stay As Long As You Want”

I do know that not everyone can afford the fee, in part because I’ve been there myself, so I’ve always said if you can’t afford Premium, you’re welcome on the free distribution forever. There’s an instructive story in that, too — my being there myself.

Ironically, it was because the manager — one guy — at the ambulance company I worked for didn’t like me. He told upper management that he laid me off …and told my fellow medics I had been fired for some transgression or other. Even with unemployment benefits due to the layoff, I suddenly had to make choices about what I could afford to eat that month. Whether I could put gas in my car to go to job interviews. Rent and car payment? Well, it was tough; even a buck a week for something “fun” was out of the question.

Some months later, upper management figured out that the low-level manager was a power-hungry fool, and not only fired him, but they gave me the now-open slot. Not as manager, but as a medic again; they decided the small division didn’t really need a middle manager at all, that we medics could deal with the day-to-day issues. And we did.

And It Was a Turning Point

But the whole thing made me realize that what I really wanted to do was go back to school and learn to write better, and faster, since my original childhood dream was to be a writer. Now again employed, I got my bank account back in order, and went and got my journalism degree.

Being a reporter was never a goal: I wanted to be a newspaper columnist. Yet, as I also learned at journalism school, the “rules” of the newspaper business said that was impossible: one had to pay their dues as a reporter for some years first. Not wanting to be a reporter even to meet my real goal, I leveraged my science writer specialty into a great job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In the early 1990s, eight years into my JPL career, the Internet was really ramping up, and I figured out how to make my original dream happen. I realized that I just needed to remove the word “newspaper” from the job title: cut out the middlemen — the low-level (if you will) manager, otherwise known as the editor, and the upper-level manager, otherwise known as the publisher — and use the Internet to reach my audience directly.

This is True was born, and two years later I quit NASA to work full time on True. The first issue was 26 June 1994, so later this month is the end of True’s 21st year.

True Couldn’t Have Done That without patrons. Not “just” the folks who pay for the Premium upgrade, but all of you who actually engage with This is True. What’s the difference between “just” a reader and a patron, then? Patrons are reading this! Casual readers blow past stuff like this, and certainly don’t bother to click through to the blog. Even if they can’t afford to pay for Premium, true patrons love True, engage with it, recommend it to their friends, and allow what’s in these pages to stimulate thought.

So if you are one of that breed, thank you for helping me get to 21 years. My next goal is to finish 25 years, and we’ll see beyond that if there will be a new goal. There are ways to help True without spending any money, and this page will provide some ideas.

Meanwhile, True always needs more supporting patrons — Premium subscribers. When you’ve been going for 21 years, one thing you learn is …patrons die! It’s startling every time it happens, and I got a note this week from some family member to let me know a Premium subscriber had died. So if you can step into that now-vacant slot, I would truly appreciate your help: upgrade information is here. Either way, thanks again for being there for a good chunk of True’s 21 years, and here’s to the future, whatever it may hold!

– – –
Later, I adopted more formal “Patronage” to help readers help support the publication. There’s Patreon, and a similar direct support mechanism without Patreon’s fees off the top. Together, they brought in enough that I was able to remove outside ads from this site. I hope you’ll join them to increase what’s provided to the readership.

– – –

Bad link? Broken image? Other problem on this page? Use the Help button lower right, and thanks.

This page is an example of my style of “Thought-Provoking Entertainment”. This is True is an email newsletter that uses “weird news” as a vehicle to explore the human condition in an entertaining way. If that sounds good, click here to open a subscribe form.

To really support This is True, you’re invited to sign up for a subscription to the much-expanded “Premium” edition:

One Year Upgrade

(More upgrade options here.)

Q: Why would I want to pay more than the minimum 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.


27 Comments on “Cut Out the Middleman

  1. I think people these days don’t understand just how difficult this was back then. For almost all creative endeavours, it was “get a publisher/label/promoter/whatever” or nothing.

  2. I’ve noticed in the comments section you have lots of people willing to tell you how to run True. Having a rich patron would have been superfluous.

    Yeah, well, free advice is usually worth less than what you paid for it. And that’s doubly true when it’s unsolicited! -rc

  3. Well… I remember read about your column in Newsweek new section “cyberscope” back to 1995, and had been a reader since then. When I read you “Book 1” it surprised me that about 75% of the histories still sound me familiar! Now I’m a Premium subscriber and my only regret is hadn’t done that earlier. Congratulations on the good job and keep working on one of my favorite 2 decade habits.

  4. This is an interesting read. I wish I could remember how I found out about “This Is True”. I’ve been a subscriber for the free newsletter since early ’95, and a premium subscriber for many of those years. The growth of the internet has been an interesting time bringing about some major paradigm changes, especially in the job market. What I do for a living now didn’t exist when I graduated from high school in ’73. What do I want to be when I grow up? Heck, I don’t know. That question seems to be rather unpredictable at best.

  5. Let’s figure out a way for our Congressional Representatives to have a large flock of small patrons with diverse ideas, rather than a few wealthy benefactors and a district with an artfully gerrymandered ideological monoculture. Liberate the Congress critters to spend more time thinking and less time pandering, and to vote their consciences!

  6. Several comments on your upcoming 21st anniversary. First off Congratulations on putting together a publication that sustains itself over a long period — Well Done!
    Secondly I like the article about how $30 is a significant amount of money to some people. Nearly anyone can quickly end up in a scenario where money is very tight (I know I too have been there in the past).
    Lastly to say (or imply) that it is never to late to go back to school and change course is fantastic. Many feel it is impossible to do that and consequently feel trapped. But as you state it is attainable and I personally found not as hard as many think.

  7. Happy anniversary Randy!

    Thanks for all the entertainment and enlightenment you have shared over the years.

    One question: how come you haven’t aged? :))

    No worries: I’m aging from the inside out! 😉 -rc

  8. I hope you hang in for another couple of decades… even if its as Editor Emeritus. I’m a somewhat recently retired journalist and This Is True is one of the highlights for me every week.

    Live long and prosper!

    Well, I’m not retiring yet, but I’d love it if I could pass it on when I do. -rc

  9. Congratulations on the anniversary, Randy! It’s awesome to see your efforts lasting so long and being rewarding to so many.

    I wish I could remember just how long I’ve been getting True (either Free or Premium), but it’s been a long time. What I DO know for sure is that I’ve never regretted getting an issue ever!

    At the risk of getting my comment binned, I do need to add myself to the group that likes to try to tell you how to run True:

    I think you should keep on doing exactly what you want to be doing with it! 😉

    Siggi the happy Subscriber (er, Patron?)

  10. I’ve been enjoying This is True for many years. And yes, I did have email in 1994, but I don’t think I joined in until much later. I’m looking forward to read the issues over the next 21 years.

  11. Woohoo! This Is True is old enough to have a drink.

    Cheers, and drink responsibly!

    As a matter of fact, I did have a martini last night! -rc

  12. I don’t know if I was an original reader, but I do know that I’ve been a longtime one. …. My hope is that you continue to bring us another 1,000 issues — and more!

  13. Having been a premium subscriber for less than a year, I wonder why I didn’t years ago as I too look forward to the next issue. And yes, the $30 is peanuts compared to years ago when I didn’t have it.

  14. “This Just In”! Was it really that long ago? It was been, and still is, a great ride. Thanks for taking me along. Congratulations & all that jazz.

  15. Congratulations on turn 21! I have read you since I discovered “This just in” in Newsweek’s “cyberscope” column. And in 21 years, I think I changed email address three times only — when I lost my college email address at the end of my masters degree, and when I exceeded my original Yahoo account and lost the password. But here we are! Also, I remembered 75% of the original stories every time I read the books. Saludos!

  16. Congratulations!!! Have been a subscriber for some years now and also look forward to each issue. Look forward to reading for more years to come!

  17. I don’t remember exactly when I started getting TRUE, but I think it was in the late 90’s. It is one of the very few newsletters that I read as soon as I see it in my inbox.

  18. I enjoy “This is True,” and read it every Monday when it comes out. It is interesting to see how this all started.

    Congratulations on your anniversary of “This is True,” and I hope to run into you when I’m on the western slope, one of these days.

    Drop me a line and if I can, we’ll meet for a brew (coffee or otherwise!) -rc

  19. I always find your stories ranging from amusing, startling and “how could they be that stupid”.

    I hope to subscribe for a long, long time!

  20. I’ve been a subscriber since 1995, when I read about you and your cats in that bulletin board magazine; and I’ve been on the premium list most of the time. You were exceptionally good then, and you are better now. I’ve loved every issue.

    That was Boardwatch. I don’t think my cat was mentioned, but he was in the photo with me. -rc

  21. Thanks for all the good comments now, and all the years of something a “little” different, and often funny. I also like your social awareness and willingness to argue back to those who don’t agree with you.

    As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen that we don’t have a lot of living-time and that we are renters, not owners, of our local environment, and our interactions with others. You’ve made a good mark in life, both with those you’ve saved as a Medic, and those that you have entertained/enlightened for a few short years.

    Thanks for your very kind words, Don. We don’t have a lot of time to make an impression, and I’ve wanted to make a good one. -rc

  22. Wow, 21 years! I started subscribing back when you were TJI, but I had no idea that it was that long ago. Time certainly flies by and now I’m retiring tomorrow. Don’t worry, I know how to change my address! I’ll look forward to seeing you Mondays in my home email.

    I consider anyone who was there in the TJI days a charter subscriber. Time flies indeed! Congrats on your retirement, Dean. -rc

  23. Happy Anniversary! I can’t remember how or when I found out about TRUE, but I know you’ve been making me laugh (and shake my head) at my desk for at least ten of those 21 years! I hope to keep reading for many more. Thanks.

  24. I joined when first started using your lists, I got hooked. I work in Infosec, a volunteer firefighter and EMT. The second part, I can say I thought of you going through the process.

    I don’t think Ray ever used TRUE stuff in JokeaDay, but Vince did (with permission) over at Both, sadly, are defunct now. -rc

  25. As one who remembers your hopes and aspirations when starting True, I would classify it a mega-success story that is based on a lot of hard work, seeking and exploiting opportunities, and a “client base” that is way above average in the cranial cavity contents department. Congratulations on this anniversary, and may there be many more!

    I do remember that early Internet-think problem: “Great! What do we do with the Internet?” I had access of my own for many years before Internet commercialization, the web, or any then-futuristic ‘net services. At the beginning of Internet commercialization, The True model, in many ways, demonstrated how to properly move forward with the ‘net. At least True gave everyone a pattern to follow, if not the ethical standards and tell-it-as-it-is editorial style you’ve used. I guess that makes you a pioneer entrepreneur, and one of a very rare group.

    Good luck with your next 21 years. I hope to NOT be one of the Honorary Unsubscribers in that time frame. Please keep doing what you do, Randy. Do it the way you want to, because it works. I’ll be watching. And reading! 🙂

    Thanks, Matt — one of my earliest readers. -rc


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