Live Free or Whine

After seeing my note from last week, and then seeing a paid ad for the Free State Project in True, Tim in New Hampshire wrote to complain:

Your constant crowing about just how terrific it is aside, I am unlikely to ever become a Premium subscriber to ‘This Is True’ for the following reasons:

  1. Your hiring of an assistant, which you announced last week*. If you are making enough money to hire an assistant to help you provide a service which many others provide for free, you can surely live without my $20.
  2. Your trumpeting of your upcoming trip to England, which you announced this week. Once again, if you can afford a trip to England, something which is well beyond my means these days, you most assuredly can live without my $20.
  3. But the true icing on the cake is accepting paid advertising from the Free State Project, whose stated goal is to move 20,000 Libertarians into my home state of New Hampshire. To my mind, this is the most unforgivable reason of the lot and I know my $20 would be much better spent helping any Libertarian who wishes to move to Colorado instead of New Hampshire rather than on your upkeep.”

Live free or die,” eh, Tim? OK, let’s see about your complaints:

  1. I actually never boast about how great Premium True is. I do, however, post a tiny fraction of the letters I get from people who have upgraded and want to say how pleased they are. (I never boast about how good the free True is, either. People will either like it, love it, or not. My telling them to love it won’t make it happen.)
  2. You get what you pay for. Or, actually, when it comes to the free edition of True, you get lots more than you pay for. My offer is, if you truly enjoy True (and I have no problem if you don’t, but then why do you bother reading it?), I provide an upgrade path to get double the stories, without any advertising, for about the cost of a postage stamp per week. That’s it: you pay, you get it. I do not offer an option of dictating what I spend the money on, even if you were stupid enough to agree to let your employer do that.
  3. Yep, part of the fee helps pay for my part-time assistant. Just like part of the cost of the food you buy from the grocer pays not only for the clerk who checks you out, but for the guy who stocks the shelves and cleans up the mess you leave on the floor. Since you “don’t have the means” to have a janitor at home, are you going to refuse to buy food? Why or why not?
  4. I don’t think announcing I’m going to host a “gathering” for my readers when I travel to do research on a book project is exactly “trumpeting,” but why would you think that your subscription fee would pay for that? It’s not only not a This is True book, it’s for a major publisher. Have you never heard of expense reimbursements in a mainstream book contract, or even in a responsible job? No, wait… I don’t suppose you have.
  5. Yep, the current advertisers pay for your free subscription. If you hate Libertarians, be gleeful that they used their money to give you something you like. If you don’t like the advertisers, then don’t support them. (If you appreciate that they make your subscription possible AND need the goods or services they offer, then DO support them!) If you simply hate all ads, then we’ve got that nice option of an ad-free edition with double the stories.
  6. All your whining does is provide more content for True, which (in case you hadn’t noticed in the last year of getting it for free) is about how stupid people can be. Thanks for providing some extra entertainment for the readers who do “get it.”

*Actually, I didn’t announce my assistant last week; it was previous to that. Here’s the paragraph Tim complained about:

I finally reached the breaking point. After years of 10- to 15-hour days, seven days a week, I finally have hired my first employee to take on some of the workload. (My wife has helped for years, but she has her own business to take care of and couldn’t keep devoting more and more time to True.) Once my new assistant gets up to speed and caught up with all sorts of back work, I’ll be able to concentrate more on the things that only I can do. I’ve (just barely!) been able to keep up with my email (reading it, that is; I’ll never be able to reply to more than a small portion) and other day-to-day tasks, but with Holly taking over some of the more routine details maybe I’ll finally have a chance to stop and smell the scent of fresh pine wafting in the windows.

Yep, Tim’s quite the prince: he wants me to continue to work beyond my “breaking point” and put in 10- to 15-hour days, seven days a week, to produce True for him for free. That’s not an idiot, that’s an asshole.

Readers Who Get It …and Don’t

I’m only going to run two letters on the page, thanks to their immense contrast (and coming in at almost the same time):

He is only indignant because you make a decent living doing something unique and hilarious that he doesn’t have the talent to do. I am certain that he doesn’t go to the movies because the actors don’t need his $7 when they can buy Jaguars. I know he doesn’t go to sporting events because the athletes don’t need his $35 when they can afford to own car dealerships. Or…. The list goes on and on. You must have been in a very charitable mood to even reply to the message.

Oh heck no! I was laughing the whole way! That was fun! But not everyone gets it. Read on….

Wow, talk about not being able to take criticism!! I was appalled at your nasty reply to Tim’s letter. I have never even allowed my children to use the words ‘hate’ and ‘stupid’ when talking about each other or another human being. –Jordan in New York

Huh: apparently Jordan thought I was one of his children.

As for the word “hate,” I mentioned that there was an alternative if Tim was the sort to “hate all ads” — the Premium edition, which doesn’t have any. And “stupid”? I didn’t call Tim stupid; I said that I wouldn’t let him dictate what I spent my money on (my assistant) “even if you were stupid enough to agree to let your employer do that.”

Jordan doesn’t seem to understand the concept of if. And it’s unlikely he will: unlike Tim he unsubscribed, running in terror from the idea of “hating ads” and the concept that someone, somewhere, just might actually be stupid. Can’t have that in a stupid news publication now, can we?

My Conclusion

In the Good Ol’ Days, when there was a lot of foolish money behind dotcom start-ups, True brought in a very nice ad revenue. That was then, this is now. Ad prices have declined sharply, and are likely to continue in that direction, and such is life.

It was because I didn’t sell out, and because I had a diverse income stream, that True survived; the Premium subscriptions made it possible. Even if I was able to sell every ad for full price (hah!), the income wouldn’t cover expenses.

Yet I’ve always said that I am happy for people to stay on the free distribution as long as they wish. I know not everyone can afford the reasonable price, in part because I’ve been there — in debt up to my ears and laid off from my job. Can’t afford to upgrade? No worries! Don’t like True enough to pay for it? Even that’s fine. But as Tim found out, I’m not going to sit and take whining that I shouldn’t pitch the upgrades that make True possible in the first place, nor will I let him dictate where I spend my hard-earned money. I’m damned proud that True is self-sustaining, and that I can actually provide employment for others.

So with that, if you want to support True, I’d appreciate your upgrade. If you support True but can’t afford an upgrade, I’m happy with your efforts to help True grow by recommending it to your friends, or using the True-a-Day service to host a new story every day on your site. It all helps.

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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.

10 Comments on “Live Free or Whine

  1. As I read the complaint letter, I sat there and thought, ‘why does he give the author of this drivel a place in his fine ezine?’ Then, I read your rebuttal. Great! And then your explanation as to why…Double Great!

    See? It’s a win-win: I have fun writing it, and you have fun reading it. What could be better?! -rc

  2. Thank you for including his letter and your response in this week’s free edition. I got more chuckles out of that one than some of the [stories]. It’s what I call an ALL STAR! 

  3. This is True is one of the highlights of my week, first for the stories, and second for the letters and your responses. Especially your responses!

  4. To get this ezine in my mailbox once a week for no price other than scrolling past a couple of ads is wonderful. And not one of those ads moves or flashes or is in any way intrusive. It takes little intelligence or imagination to realize that it takes time and money to produce a newsletter, and this is the least offensive manner I’ve seen as far as ad driven revenue.

    Indeed, many newsletters long ago switched to HTML so they could put in flashing, obnoxious ads. Such ads drive me nuts, so I’m definitely not going to allow something like that in the newsletters. -rc

  5. It’s funny what inspires us sometimes. For me, it was the rant from Tim in New Hampshire. The sheer audacity of someone whining so much about a free publication, that hiring an assistant is not reasonable use of the funds you collect from Premium subscriptions, was enough for me. Thanks to Tim’s rant, I just upgraded! I hope it really irks him and I look forward to more stories about just how nonsensical people can be.

    While there was no huge surge in upgrades last week, several people who did upgrade said it was in response to Tim. Oh, and I just checked: he is still on the distribution list. -rc

  6. Wow, when I read the garbage from Tim, I wondered why you even printed it. Then, when you took the time to respond, I thought, why would Randy choose to get into a battle of wits with an unarmed man?

    Of course I took the time to read your response as I do everything you write, and realized that, as usual, you had a reason for responding: to teach. Your newsletters are a learning experience for all who seek to learn.

  7. Like you Randy, I’m a medic and I work in an urban environment where sometimes the patients are less than grateful for the service that is provided often at taxpayer expense. While it sucks to be on the receiving end of such abuse, I relish your response and am pleased that you have the perfect forum to hoist Tim by his own pitard and slap him with a moniker he truly deserves.

    Anyone who works in the service industry, from public service to retail, has at least one of these stories. Not all are this entertaining, but I’ll bet a lot of them are! -rc

  8. Strange thing about human nature. As a businessman, I’ve noticed that those whom I don’t charge are the ones that complain most. It seems that when someone pays for something, they attribute a value to it and accept it for that value. The biggest surprise is to give a buck to a panhandler and hear him complain about the small amount. Definitely a mentality that I won’t bother to categorize.

  9. Way to go, Jordan in New York! Make sure that your kids’ thinking is channeled in the “right” direction by prohibiting them from using certain words. Don’t allow discussion with your kids as to why they feel that another person is “stupid”, or why they believe that they are angry at someone else to the point of “hating” that person. Future fodder for Randy when they grow up!

    Didn’t George Orwell demonstrate what happens when you restrict language?

  10. Since when does anybody purchase an item (like a subscription) as a means to provide financial help to the seller (except when you buy Girl Scout Cookies).

    He writes as though you’d sent him a request for a grant or something.

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