By Naomi Riddle
31 July, 2019
To consider the magazine industry over the last decade is to see an industry in distress: there is the migration from print to digital, the loss of advertisers to social media, and the power of big tech in determining who reads what. In 2018, Facebook’s decision to make non-disclosed changes to their hidden algorithm meant traffic to media organisations plummeted. ‘Journalists are just sharecroppers on Facebook’s giant farm,’ writes Nicholas Thompson, ‘and sometimes conditions on the farm can change without warning.’
I do not need to list the number of arts magazines that have ceased publication in the last couple of years in Australia, nor do I need to expand any further on the market realities editors now face. Suffice to say much of the conversation about the state (or lack) of critical commentary in Australia hinges on this: economics and financial instability.
I founded Running Dog in 2017 because I was lucky enough to receive an Australia Council grant to do so. In 2018, for a period of eight months, the publication was without any funding at all, before receiving an additional Australia Council grant at the start of 2019. For the entirety of its existence, Running Dog has paid contributors a (small) fee for their work. Before Hannah Jenkins came on board as Assistant Editor in May, I conducted all editorial work myself. Both Hannah and I receive a monthly stipend, which, when taken as an hourly rate, accounts for less than ten percent of the labour required to perform these roles. We do not receive a regular income or salary for the work we do.
Running Dog is not just the words you read on this screen, and I reject the notion that exposing the financial reality of this publication will be seen as a complaint or a manipulative gesture. It is a disruptive one, because I am breaking one of late capitalism’s golden rules: to keep up the polished veneer at all costs so Running Dog can seem bigger than it is, wealthier than it is, more stable than it is, and always ready to expand.
I have deleted and rewritten the above two paragraphs multiple times because writing it makes me feel squeamish and uneasy, which is exactly the type of feeling this hyper-productive moment demands I feel.
But Running Dog’s fragility is its strength. As its editor, such fragility gives me resolve rather than anxiety, even if it makes me anxious at times. We may not have an income, but we have full editorial control and independence. We can say yes to ideas where others would say no, and we are not governed by the whims of sponsors or advertisers. If the work you are doing is not profitable then you can push forward with more difficult questions, such as what, and who, this work is for.
This month we are launching our Patreon page in an effort to encourage RD readers to make small micro-donations of two dollars a month. All of the funds raised will be used for writer’s fees and operational costs. They will not be used for salaries, events or promotional material, and Running Dog will always be open access and free to read.
One of the reasons for this undertaking is to help us become less reliant on government funding, which, as an arm of the state, comes with its own costs and ethical tangles. It is also an effort to reshape how we think of online publishing, and who is responsible for its continued existence. That is, if the arts community wishes to have arts writing and arts criticism, then it is this community that needs to support it. Not institutions and not corporate sponsors.
Our Patreon page gives us the opportunity to circumvent such structures of power and influence, to take risks and to maintain our independence. It is also a way of enacting one of our core principles—to build a level of trust and generosity between artist and critic, reader and writer.
Much of the advice I receive about Running Dog has less to do with what I am publishing and more to do with whose money I should be chasing. And yes, I am tired, as you must be, of talking about economics. But if I am going to ask anyone for anything, it will be to the community of readers who already know what Running Dog is about, and what it is trying to achieve. It may well be that I will learn what I have been told—that relying on community support is unsustainable and I should be more pragmatic—but I would prefer to put my faith in those of us whose idea of the future is uncertain, than take the advice of those who seem so assured.