The second was that TIME Inc — publisher of TIME, Sports Illustrated and People, among others — had been sold to another magazine company, thanks to a wad of cash coughed up by the infamous Koch brothers.
I am sure there are many of you who've wondered why, with all this talent and a fine product, we publish Bystander in such a time-consuming, penny ante way. The $4000 we just raised on Kickstarter wouldn't even cover TIME's stapler budget.
But that, dear patrons, is precisely the point.
Once a publication gets past a certain size, there are really just two sources of money big enough to pay its bills: mega-corporations, or incredibly rich individuals. Both corporations and tycoons are going to demand certain things in exchange for their money, and the more you take, the more they demand. These demands — sooner or later — negatively impact the publication itself, and drive away the readers that are the whole point.
For about a hundred years, there was what we'd now call a "hack": by selling advertising to a bunch of big companies, no one single corporation would hold sway. And this hack generated enough green that lots of rich people wanted to buy newspapers and magazines, which meant you could sell it to someone who'd promise to keep their mitts off editorial. Sometimes — as in The New Yorker — they'd actually keep their promise, and everybody got rich and fat and happy.
Then, for a million reasons, that hack stopped working.
• • •
As a culture, indeed as a civilization, all the most serious problems we're facing share a single, pernicious root. Whether it's global warming or income inequality or Citizens United, it's all capitalism out of control. But our watchdogs are silent — because they need money from the very corporations and individuals that are not only benefitting from these problems, they're often causing them. That documentary on the vanishing polar bear? Brought to you by a generous grant from Exxon/Mobil.
This Patreon, our Kickstarters and Indiegogo campaigns, the whole daffy "let's put on a show"-ness of The American Bystander isn't frivolity, or distaste for business, or even a lack of rich friends. It's an attempt to create a new way to publish professional-quality information, without compromising it before it even reaches you. It's an attempt to let creators say what they need to say, no matter if it — or precisely because it — injures somebody's bottom line.
Will it work? That is merely a question of scale. Right now, it works well enough for us to publish, and for our writers and artists to get paid. Someday, I might get paid, too. And after that, who knows? Staplers for everybody!
Here's what I do know: the conversion of TIME Inc into a Koch property, or something like it, was inevitable. Capitalism tends towards monopoly, and in "the information space" that's state-run media. The American Bystander is a humor magazine because humor is what went away first; but its success or failure is about much more than the state of comedy. If we can make Bystander work — if enough people subscribe — it can be a model for truly any kind of publication. If we can't make it work, then we know what will happen: Ayn Rand as TIME's Person of the Year; stuffed polar bear exhibitions, brought to you by Exxon/Mobil.
So as I push "print" on our sixth issue, know what you're involved in: yes, a funny magazine; yes, a beautiful example of classic American culture; but also something more. I don't know if we'll succeed; that's entirely up to you guys, and the friends you recruit. But knowing as many of you as I do, I like our odds.