In light of my new, expanded work for RealClearPolitics, particularly my daily RCP newsletter, I promised a fuller explanation of how this all will fit in with my own newsletter, TIA Daily. Everything I talk about below will take some time to implement. Some parts will be ready in a week or two, others will take several months. But I wanted to lay out the whole picture for my readers at the beginning, so you know where this is all headed and how it all fits together.
A while back I posted a survey for my readers asking what was the most important value you get out of TIA Daily. The answer, which I kind of expected, is that the main value you get is not just from links to news articles—what is called “news aggregation” these days—but from the higher-level analysis that I add.
This fits with my evaluation of the market for “news aggregation.” It is very crowded with competition, not just from professional news aggregation websites, but from what your friends post on Facebook and a hundred other sources. It’s hard to compete with the professional news aggregation sites, because they literally have a staff of people working around the clock. While some don’t do a good job, due to ideological bias or not having a nose for the news (maladies that are closely related and strike on both sides of the political spectrum), some of them do a very good job.
So as they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Hence my work for RealClearPolitics, which is arguably the best news aggregation site on the Web, and where I am now one of the aggregators, doing updates for various RCP sites as well as collating it all together in my RCP newsletter, The Daily Debate.
I have quite enjoyed this new project because it calls upon a skill I have worked hard to develop over the years that is somewhat unusual: the ability to take in a very large amount of news—thirty or forty different articles linked to at all of the RCP sites—and integrate them into a few big themes in a way that can be easily digested. In effect, it’s an aggregation of the aggregation.
Now, not everyone enjoys this kind of close coverage of the news and particularly of the political horse race. I do enjoy it, but if it were all I was doing, I would go crazy. That’s one of the reasons why my own newsletter isn’t going anywhere. But I have been putting more emphasis on where it offers its unique value, which is in the broader analysis and philosophical insight it offers.
This is the direction I’ve been moving for a while, with a greater emphasis on longer, “big picture” articles and less on short comments on the news. For example, I’m planning soon to start a series titled “An Atheist Reads the Bible.” That’s me, the unbeliever, getting all churched up, with a little assistance from Isaac Asimov. I thought it would be nice to take a break from politics and go to a less controversial topic, like religion.
The shorter news links will never disappear, and I plan to bring them back on a somewhat more frequent basis. This includes much shorter comments, on the order of 140 characters—as you can see on the right-hand column of this site.
But one thing that has already changed is that in writing these longer articles, amongst all of the other new commitments and deadlines I have, I’ve found that it can’t be done on a strictly daily basis. So for a while now, TIA Daily has not been on a regular daily schedule, and you may have noticed more posts going out on the weekend rather than on weekdays.
In looking back at TIA Daily’s output for 2011, I noticed that the amount of material I published was actually enormous, on the order of hundreds of thousands of words—several multiples of what we used to publish each year in our old print edition. I don’t think anyone would remotely think of complaining about the amount of output—if it weren’t for that word “Daily,” which creates a false expectation.
So to reflect the new reality of how it is published, the newsletter’s name has to change. And there are other good reasons for changing it, too. Part of the rationale for working with RealClearPolitics and writing a daily RCP newsletter is the opportunity of getting my name and work out to a much larger audience, and to steer some of them—those who are more sympathetic to my own outlook—to my own newsletter. But for that purpose, TIA Daily is not the best name. As an acronym, TIA means nothing to the general public (except, to those with a medical background, “transient ischemic attack,” which is not a pleasant association), and even the full name, The Intellectual Activist, is a bit obscure in its meaning. That name has a history and meaning within the Objectivist movement, to be sure, but the new readers I am seeking out will not know that history.
So TIA Daily has become The Tracinski Letter. It is the same publication, with the same layout and format, and pretty much indistinguishable from what you’ve been reading for the past eight years. Only the name and logo are different.
The new name seems particularly appropriate because, while I will occasionally publish some items from my friends and from readers, this newsletter very much represents my work and my outlook—including my own distinct views, as an “Independent Objectivist,” on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, the Objectivist movement, and the application of Objectivism to politics.
This also reflects a detail I have always liked in Atlas Shrugged. The good guys always name their businesses after themselves—Rearden Steel, Taggart Transcontinental, Wyatt Oil—while the bad guys all run businesses with vague, collective designations like Associated Steel and Amalgamated Switch and Signal. The good guys are saying, in effect, “I take responsibility for this product. My name is on it and I stand behind it.” I feel the same about this newsletter: I’m Robert Tracinski, this is my letter, and I take responsibility for making sure that the ideas in it are interesting. So The Tracinski Letter seems like the right name.
As you can see, the website for The Tracinski Letter is now up, and TIADaily.com and IntellectualActivist.com will redirect here. Within the next week or so, this website will finally allow readers to access articles online, in a subscriber-only area, rather than just by e-mail, and to manage their own subscriptions on a fully automated system. it may take a bit longer to migrate all of the existing subscriber data into the new subscription management system and test it out. I’ll keep you all posted.
Readers will already have guessed that this means the final end for the print edition of The Intellectual Activist. After making several attempts to revive it over the past few years, I have concluded that the dead-tree edition is just economically unfeasible in this Internet age. Paper has become the slow and expensive medium for the transmission of ideas, and that’s particularly true for ideas about a fast-moving, timely field like politics. When I wrote articles in the old print edition of TIA, it used to take at least six weeks from the time an event happened for me to write about it, format the article for the print issue, send it to the printer and the mailer, and then wait a seemingly endless amount of time for the US Postal Service to deliver it to readers all the way off in California. That all seems hopelessly antique now, like sending messages by Pony Express. Especially now that the US Postal Service is going bankrupt and may soon be as defunct as the Pony Express.
As for philosophical articles, they don’t make economic sense in a printed medium, either, since they appeal to a smaller audience, making the vastly lower cost of publication on the Internet all the more necessary.
In short, print is dead. Or rather, as I have been arguing, print will live on as a luxury product which you buy, not to access information, but for the nostalgic charm of the feel of actual paper under your fingertips. That’s a luxury I don’t disparage, as anyone who has seen the unruly stacks of books in my home can attest, so I will still be making a good deal of my work available in printed form—more on that in a moment—but it is no longer the primary means of delivering information.
So I am bowing to the technological and economic reality of the age—you may have noticed other traditional newspapers and magazines dropping like flies—and I am finally, formally shutting down the print edition of The Intellectual Activist. I will refund the remaining portions of everyone’s subscriptions in the form of “store credit,” which former print subscribers can use on the new website to buy subscriptions to The Tracinski Letter, to donate to support our intellectual advocacy, or to buy some of the other online products I will be making available. This store credit will take longer to set up on the new site, since it involves the migration of a lot more data, but I wanted to let former print subscribers know how all of this is going to end up and assure them that they will receive something in return for the unused portion of their subscriptions.
As for the other products I will be offering, I am in the process of converting a number of old articles (and a few new ones) into e-books, which will be for sale on our site as well as through Amazon and other e-book sellers. At the same time, these books and the old bound volumes of The Intellectual Activist will soon be available in printed versions through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The print versions will take a little longer to deliver—they will be produced by an on-demand printing service that co-ordinates with the online booksellers—and they will cost a little more than an e-book, though not as much as you might think. But they will be available for those who prefer the luxury of reading words on paper.
To sum up, here is the whole picture. The old print edition of The Intellectual Activist is formally closed, and its subscribers will be refunded in the form of “store credit” at my new website. TIA Daily will change its name to The Tracinski Letter but otherwise will be pretty much the same in format and content. (It will increase in frequency as I finish up this transition, which has been quietly in the works for some time.) And then I will be putting out a series of books that will be available both as e-books and in printed form, along with bound volumes of the old back issues of TIA.
All of this will be implemented in stages, and I will post updates as each stage is complete. But I wanted to lay out the whole picture for subscribers now so that they know what is coming.
Thanks to all of my readers for your support over the years, and I look forward to the beginning of a new era for this newsletter.