It’s Worth What You Pay For It

The proposition behind Economic Principals always has been that all those who are interested in the production and distribution of economic ideas should have access to its journalism, especially those around the world who are far removed from economics’ major research centers, and the lively conversations that go on around them.

The problem is that journalism is costly to produce. In this case, the front-end costs were paid long ago by a series of magazines and newspapers, chiefly the Boston Globe.

But experience notwithstanding, it still takes money to operate EP — not a lot of money, but some.

Moreover, in a blogosphere where almost everything is free, a modest revenue stream can only enhance the weekly’s authority. If (some) readers are willing pay for Economic Principals because it is independent, then EP can remain independent and report more energetically precisely because people are willing to pay. Such circular reasoning is the essence of markets for all new goods. 

That is the two-fold logic behind Economic Principals’ new version of its email edition.  For nearly four years, that service has been free and open-ended (if somewhat haphazardly administered, in an age of ever-more complicated protection against spam).

After Sunday, November 26, however, the email-edition will be available for a $50 annual subscription. The weekly will continue to be made available on the Web, but only after a certain interval.

The email edition moves Sunday at 0400 EST, around 18 hours before the Web version is posted.  An email subscription also will bring four quarterly reports that are sent only to subscribers.

The expectation is that a relative handful of core supporters will bear the cost for all the rest — a little like public television.

(It is, of course, possible simply to contribute to EP’s maintenance — to elect to receive only the subscriber reports, and continue to read the weekly on the Web.  Gift subscriptions, family and group discounts are available as well.)

Who should pay? Those who want the weekly as early as possible, of course. Those who wish to be reminded of its existence by a thump in the mailbox. Those who seek to influence, in a small way, the rest of the community of journalists who cover economics.

Perhaps most of all, those interested parties who cultivate a sense of civic virtue should kick in. In a world in which advertising-supported media seem to be retreating from independent coverage of the economics profession, $1 a week is not a lot to pay for pluralism.

With the new funding mechanism will come a new selection principle, adequately described, at least for now, as “all economics all the time.” Since EP first evolved as a Boston newspaper column about political economics, the principle of diversification was central to it for many years.

The Web permits the teasing apart of its concerns. EP will stick to what its readers understand as economics. Purely local and political topics will find a home somewhere else.

We’ve set our fixed costs arbitrarily low, at around $25,000 per annum. We aim to cap our revenues at around that sum, meaning that we need around 500 subscriptions to make a go of it.

For three years, email circulation has held steady at around 2,000, despite many delivery problems. (Such failures will be eliminated under the new scheme.)

Meanwhile, readership on the Website itself has climbed steadily, to around 21,000 unique visitors in more than 90 countries last month. This is the real yardstick of EP’s success.

Many current subscribers naturally will choose to opt out of the new arrangement. Other subscribers will sign up.  If we can re-build to a thousand subscriptions, we’ll cut the price to $35.  If we can’t make our nut, like any other business, we’ll fold.

The micromarket for quality news is in it infancy. Economic Principals is happy to enter the fray.