A letter from Michael Albert

From today’s email.  What do others think about this stance?

Hello Jeff Mowatt

I received the following email – yes, this is the whole message. Take a look:

“Every year we are asked for donations… why is it not possible to make money from magazine and all of your own books that you shamelessly promote? I fail to see why we should pay for your life… this is … a dependency structure.”

Before you dismiss it as a relatively toothless tirade by someone who hasn’t had his (yes, it was a he) morning coffee yet, which was my first reflex, I think it pays to pause and consider his words carefully.

The thing is, while some may feel he was a bit boorish or even a little nasty, I think our critic’s sentiment is widespread and highly influential. Rather than a rude good morning begging to be ignored, I think his message is more like a wake up call, begging to be heard.

Z media is used and appreciated by around a hundred times as many people as those who pay for it. It is thus incredibly dependent on the few who do pay or donate.

So I think our critic’s succinct sentiment is real and pervasive, even going a long way toward explaining the disparity in numbers between those who relate to Z, and those who materially support it.

How would I answer?

“Every year we are asked for donations…”

In Z’s case, this is false because it both understates and overstates the reality. Z seeks new Sustainers every day, not every year, and likewise for one time donations. We don’t do this aggressively, daily, but the appeal is always there, on the site. However, the critic is probably referring to the more “in your face” brand of fundraising – necessary because the daily gentle approach doesn’t work very well – where we cover the top page of ZNet with an appeal that users have to click past (such as currently) and send a few emails (like this). But even this aggressive activity doesn’t happen yearly. Sometimes we skip a year, or we do it every year and a half. Sometimes, we do it more. It is not on a clock, but pegged to needs.

“…why is it not possible to make money from magazine and all of your own books that you shamelessly promote?”

It is possible to get revenues from these endeavors, and we do. But there are four big obstacles to getting much.

First, we price the magazine, videos, and now books very low, so as to foster wide distribution. The aim is not mainly to make money, but to provide useful information and tools as widely as possible. Yes, we promote such endeavors as best we can. Oddly, our critic wants us to generate revenues from sales, but not to make the items known so people might choose to have them – as he thinks doing that is “shameless,” meant pejoratively, I am sure. A bit of a Catch-22, no? Yes, we feel no shame promoting products we think are worthy in non manipulative, substantive ways.

Second, we make almost all Z’s information available free, sometimes after a delay, sometimes simultaneously – including magazine content and, yes, even book content. Obviously, that doesn’t help sales but it does have excellent political and social ramifications.

Third, most people, particularly in these tough times, are not eager to spend anything on media, with two factors propelling their reticence: 1) a bad economy is cutting into people’s disposable income, and, 2) a feeling that information should be free cuts into inclinations to pay. The logic runs like this: If I can listen to the radio free, watch TV shows free, and especially go to web sites free, why should I pay for any other delivery system, such as Z operations or other alternative media?

The fourth obstacle is that Z very consciously refuses to make money in one of the ways we could. That is, the main way that media earns funds is by selling people to advertisers, generally at the expense of the type of information provided, which is skewed so that the media’s users will have high disposable income and high inclination to purchase advertised items. Z refuses to have paid ads which is to say, Z refuses to sell access to our readers and users to corporations.

“I fail to see why we should pay for your life… this is … a dependency structure.”

Set aside that I bet this critic would be happy to be sold to corporations in the form of us getting ad revenues, and that he doesn’t write letters to the many corporate media operations he relates to saying to them, how come you have to sell me to advertisers? Why should I subject myself to that to “pay for your life.” Instead let’s just ask what “pay for your life” even means. 

If we were a for profit organization, consumers of our product would not only be “paying for the workers’ lives” to cover the low rate of pay the workers garner, but also paying to cover other costs, provide investment for growth, and finally  provide the profits of owners and very high rates of pay of managers, engineers, lawyers, etc. That would be okay with our critic.

The person producing alternative media, however, according to our critic, deserves no income. The consumer of media should not have to pay for the “producers’ lives,” leaving those lives to not be led, presumably. Thus, our critic  gets media free, while implying that he is against people getting things for nothing.

But suppose our critic is a subscriber to Z – or any other periodical. He might think, I pay my way, why should I donate more than the basic fee for “their lives”? Why should I even be asked to do so – with a plea that is in my face (on the page I want to visit)?

The truth is, at least in my mind, everyone consuming alternative media ought to feel, in accord with their socially conscious values, not only that those who produce the media should be paid, other costs should be met, and continuing improvement and enlargement should be underwritten – but also that the product should be supported sufficiently so it can be distributed to people who are not yet on board with supporting it, or who simply do not have the means to help cover costs. 

So, yes, it is “a dependency structure.” ZCom is dependent on you deciding to voluntarily deliver unto us funds to stay in existence and, hopefully, do much more than that.

We hope you will support Z’s operations to help us avoid dramatic cuts and enlarge our positive endeavors – including making as much information and services as possible freely available as widely as possible. And we hope you will do likewise with any other alternative media you appreciate, as well.

You could subscribe to the print magazine. You could purchase Z books or videos – in the ZStore. You could become a Sustainer. You could give a one time donation. Everything helps. Just visit ZNet – all the links are right there – indeed, for now, they are “in your face.”

Thanks for listening,

Michael Albert

It took me back to an old conversation about profit and purpose.

Understandably he doesn’t want to contribute to the prevailing capitalist hegemony and at the end, he’s suggesting product purchase for sustainers, a profit-for-purpose approach like our own.

What struck me was this.  If  an economic paradigm is viable, it should be able to create an example of itself.  If that depends  on first removing the existing system, then how will it get start ed?


2 thoughts on “A letter from Michael Albert

  1. montrealler says:

    How did you get in contact with him? I can’t find his e-mail anywhere.

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