Fighting for the Life of the Independent Press

April 10, 2008

In early January, the Independent Press Association, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, quietly announced via e-mail to its members that it was ceasing operations, effective immediately. The news had already broken on the Internet, thanks to a former IPA staffer, but it would take a week before everyone confirmed the rumor that was circulating in independent publishing and media activism circles: The IPA was dead.

Founded in 1996 “to promote and support independent publications dedicated to social justice and a free press,” the IPA provided technical and material support to a range of magazines, including the NACLA Report. By 2005, the IPA had a multimillion-dollar budget and was handling distribution for more than 500 publications, including such venerable magazines as Mother Jones, Utne Reader and The Nation. The IPA’s distribution arm, IndyPress Newsstand Services, was a vital counterweight to the consolidation of distribution and newsstand services across the country. It ensured that hundreds of small, independent magazines found their way not only to Borders and Barnes & Noble, but also to hundreds of independent and community bookstores—and thereby into the hands of readers seeking alternatives to mainstream coverage of the issues that matter to them, readers like ours: those seeking to make sense of the world in order to change it.

And then, crisis struck. The serious financial problems suffered by IndyPress Newsstand Services came to a head in late 2005, when it became clear that they had accumulated more than $500,000 in debt to publishers. Indypress stopped making its payments to magazines, leaving dozens of publications in the lurch. During the next year, many of those magazines would be driven close to bankruptcy, and a number would actually close down because of the financial obstacles created by the collapse of the IPA program. Perhaps the announcement early this year that the IPA had ceased operations altogether—closing not only its distribution service but also its promotion-oriented loan program, its technical assistance work, and its e-mail Listserv for small publishers—should not have surprised IPA members, least of all those magazines to whom it owed thousands of dollars.

But the demise of the only national organization committed to fostering and supporting independent publications is cause for alarm, particularly because we, as producers of independent media, haven’t done enough to bring you, our readers, into the emerging media activism movement. Now, after the IPA meltdown, it’s clear that that needs to change, and we need to break down the walls between producers and consumers of independent media. We need to come together to build a movement against media consolidation, for fairer media policy and to support the production of alternative, independent information sources.

We are fortunate that Naclistas are already, by and large, activists. You read the NACLA Report because you’re seeking information that you can use, looking to understand the repercussions of our government’s policies abroad and the models emerging from below to challenge injustice and empire. You also read it because you can’t get the information it contains anywhere else. And so you buy the NACLA Report on the newsstand or purchase a subscription, and many of you send generous donations. And we are extremely grateful for this support—it is what allows us to continue bringing you the coverage that we do. But for you, as a reader of the NACLA Report and other independent magazines, it is not just the struggle for a better world that matters—the struggle for a better media, to bring you information about that world, does too. If independent media cannot continue to confront the misinformation, bias, and skewed priorities of the mainstream media, activists’ ability to wage our battles for peace and justice will be severely undermined. So as we confront setbacks such as the dissolution of the IPA, our fight is your fight—it is the readers of independent media who can make the difference, the consumers of alternative publications who will build the media activism movement and challenge the corporate–dominated model of information distribution that we face. You’ve already taken the first step in picking up this magazine. Now won’t you join us in fighting for its life?

For more information about media consolidation, the importance of the independent press, and what you can do, visit the following Web sites:

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