Vote With Your Dollars
The New Media Business Needs You
These days, a lot of people have paid newsletters—it is quickly becoming the dominant way to reach readers—and a lot of them begin every newsletter with some kind of hard sell, usually claiming to be in dire straits and needing your subscription just to survive.
I don’t do that very often, because I find it tiresome—for me, and also I assume for my readers. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, at least in one very important sense.
This newsletter is driven by subscriptions, so it really does depend on your interest and your support to survive as a going enterprise. This doesn’t mean I’m going to be out on the streets if you don’t sign up. It means that I would have to do something else to pay the bills, and I would not be able to create the continuous stream of analysis and advocacy that I have been offering for the past 20 years.
It would be a shame to lose that, especially because other, less edifying voices—the hacks and the partisans—are waiting to fill the gap.
There is a particular urgency to that question this year, because 2023 has been a bad year for the media. This year has seen wave after wave of layoffs in media jobs, particularly the online media. There’s a reason you’re hearing so much lately about Substack, the platform many of us are using for subscription-based newsletters. It’s partly because of the rise of a new era of blogging—but it’s also because everything else is collapsing. This isn’t where we write because it’s better than working for the mainstream media. This is where we write because it just might be the only media job still available.
I was ahead of the curve on this. I started a subscription-based online newsletter in 2004, long before Substack existed. This is not the first change in the economics of the media business I’ve seen. I have been laid off by media companies when the money got tight, and I’ve been fired when they decided to take an opposite ideological direction. My newsletter subscribers have given me the base of support to keep going through it all.
I didn’t list this latest contraction in the news business as one of my top stories of 2023, though perhaps I should have. It has some interesting causes. One of them is that people have been tuning out political news since Joe Biden became president. Democrats have been doing so more than Republicans, because with their guy in office, everything no longer seems like a crisis to them, but it has been happening across the board. And while Republicans have not disengaged as much from political news, conservative political discourse has become far more narrowly partisan and far more hostile to liberty. (It is, for the most part, entirely oriented around making excuses for one guy.) And there are the usual fears—I don’t know yet how exaggerated they are—that young people have become voluntarily illiterate and fill their heads only with what they see on TikTok. Maybe it’s true this time around.
Whatever the causes, the continued economic decline of the media business is not just of interest to those of us who make a living in it. Over the long run, it has a lot of impact on how people learn about the big issues affecting the world and how we debate them. Our cultural and political debates aren’t run by the most interesting and thoughtful voices. They are run by the people who are able to make a living at it—and when the economic incentives change, our public debate changes, sometimes for the better, sometime for the worse.
Which it is depends in large part on you, the reader, because you get to vote with your dollars and decide who gets to make a living talking about ideas. You have that power far more than you ever did before.
There are things I don’t miss about the old media era, with its entrenched biases and behind-the-scenes gatekeepers. But I do miss some of the division of labor. It is no longer possible to just focus on writing and leave to someone else the job of promoting your work and making a living from it. That has an impact on what ends up being available to you, the reader, because it means that the people you hear from the most are not necessarily the clearest thinkers and the best writers. In many cases, they’re just the most vigorous self-promoters.
I’m not above a little self-promotion, mind you, but—how shall I put it?—there are tradeoffs in everything. The new media business tends to reward people who have prioritized the skill of self-promotion above the skills of thinking and analysis. The most obvious form of this problem is what we call “audience capture,” the proliferation of writers who make a very good living by pandering to the prejudices of their audiences. There is a lot of money in telling people what they want to hear—and only what they want to hear, whether it’s true or not.
But here’s the best thing about this new media era. You get to vote with your dollars, and you can actually have a noticeable impact. It does not take a large number of you—as few as five hundred or a thousand dedicated readers—to make a newsletter like this one viable and to keep alive an active and vigorous voice in the public debate.
I like to say that the reason we have such a terrible political discourse is because we don’t want to pay for a better one. But you can make that decision, and each one of you can have a real and substantial impact.
In reviewing the top stories of the year and reminding you of some of the best articles I’ve published, I’ve been making the case to my readers why I deserve your support. If you agree, here are some options for helping The Tracinski Letter thrive.
If you are not currently a paying subscriber, please sign up now.
It doesn’t cost all that much in the scheme of things—a few dollars a month—to be one of the people who is willing to pay for this country to have a better quality of political debate.
If you are a paying subscriber, check to make sure you are set to renew. There’s a big lump of you coming up in the next week or two, and I am counting on you.
If you want to check on the status of your subscription and see when it renews, at the top right of any e-mail edition is a little hypertext link that says, “view in browser.” Click on that, and when the newsletter opens in your browser, there should be a little button on the top right that looks something like this, except that yours won’t have my picture on it.
Click on that and you will get a drop-down menu that includes the item, “manage your subscription.” Click on that to find out how long your subscription lasts, when it renews, and whether you have payment information already on file.
You can also give a gift subscription to someone you think would value these ideas and analysis.
And since Substack only allows monthly or annual gift subscriptions, I’ve added a way to give a six-month gift subscription for $45.
Or a three-month gift subscription for $23.
One other thing that makes a big difference is that some of you have offered extra support over and above your subscription. Substack offers you the option of upgrading to become a “Founding” subscriber.
Or you can go here to make a donation via PayPal.
Even $50 or $100 makes a difference. If you want to send more, or do so without PayPal’s fees, or if you are just old-fashioned, you can send it by mail to PO BOX 6997, Charlottesville, VA 22906.
And finally, there is one thing you can do for free: recommend this newsletter to new people. Even if they only sign up on the free list, that increases the overall size of the audience and gives me a larger people of people to convert, eventually, into paying subscribers.
You can refer subscribers and get rewards.
Or just make a habit of sharing this newsletter to help me bring in new readers.
In just a few months, in 2024, The Tracinski Letter will reach it 20th anniversary, and my subscribers have made it all possible. Thanks again to all of your for your continuing support and for doing your part to make a better cultural and political debate possible.