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Why The Ecologist has gone on-line

Zac Goldsmith

9th April, 2009

Ecologist readers will know by now that the magazine is to re-launch on-line. I want to explain why.

There is the unavoidable fact of the recession, and it has played a role. It has long seemed likely that media generally will shift away from print and onto the internet. That change will come sooner because of the recession as magazines struggle to maintain their ad revenue and subscribers.

But we have been flirting with the idea of shifting entirely on-line for a few years, and not for financial reasons.

First, this is not a face-saving way of closing down. We are emphatically not closing down. The Ecologist has lost money from the day it was launched in 1970, and will continue until the last edition is printed. It was never set up as a business venture. It was set up as a campaign, and like all good campaigns, it costs. Its various backers have, over the years, been happy to pay that cost. They still are.

What has changed is that we have reached a point – compounded by the recession – where we are not able to get as much value for money as we could from the internet. Online our potential readership is limitless. If we get it right, we can reach millions. We can launch campaigns and see immediate results. We can bring news to people when it matters – now. The format will change, of course, but we won’t lose anything that has made the Ecologist vital and relevant. We will continue to provide the best analysis and the best investigations. We will continue to provoke, fearlessly, where that’s needed.

By contrast, in print, our readership is necessarily limited. We will always aspire to reach millions, but that will never happen.

It’s true that every now and again we have touched a nerve, and the magazine has sold like hot cakes. The famous Blueprint for Survival for instance, which was published thirty five years ago. That special edition triggered the formation of the People Party, later renamed the Ecology Party and finally the Green Party. The Blueprint for Survival went on to sell more than 750,000 copies.

It happened again more recently when we dedicated an entire edition to exposing the ugly truth about the highly litigious biotech giant, Monsanto. The edition was a direct response to adverts posted by Monsanto in magazines and papers throughout Europe declaring that: ‘Biotechnology is a matter of opinions; Monsanto believes you should hear all of them.’ After decades of printing highly controversial editions, our printer mysteriously chose to pulp rather than release this particular one. We found a new printer but the major wholesalers then refused to distribute it. We thought we were sunk, but it went on to become the biggest selling edition in the magazine’s history.

But in normal times, our circulation has been a steady 20,000. If we were a standard business, perhaps we would cut a few costs, crop a few pages, loosen our ultra strict advertising policy and turn a small profit. But that’s not the purpose of the magazine. We want to inform, inspire, convert the undecided, and provoke. And by only talking to a committed readership, we will always be limited in scope.

That’s not to say our readers aren’t valued. Their loyalty is more appreciated than they know. If we have launched useful campaigns in the past, it has been because of their commitment. If the Ecologist brand has gravitas, it’s because they have given it gravitas. But there’s little they gain from the print magazine that they couldn’t gain from an online version. There will be no dumbing down.

We will invest in the new site and hope it will become the world’s best source of information on the most important issues of the day. We will maintain the uncompromising investigation and cutting edge analysis that have been the hallmark of the Ecologist since its inception. By uploading 40 years of Ecologist editions on line, we will be creating the world’s most extensive ecological archive. The Ecologist will continue to set the environmental and political agenda here and abroad.

The final print edition of the magazine will be published on June 19, and will be followed immediately by the launch of the new website. Please do sign upand help us make it a success.  

Zac Goldsmith

www.theecologist.org

 

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