One of my favorite magazines, the alternative music publication Paste, has quite literally been taking handouts to stay afloat since the summer. As the economy worsened and advertising revenues dried up, Paste was forced to approach its readership with a radical proposal: donate money to keep Paste on the newsstands. So far it’s worked; by offering to donors exclusive download tracks by groups like the Decembrists, Neko Case and Band of Horses, Paste has survived through its darkest hour. It is an utterly unique meeting of business and art, as many bands have graciously donated exclusive tracks to the cause, enticing readers to pay up in order to hear rare music from their favorite bands.
The Paste staff is in a unique position because of the stable of bands and artists they can call on in order to do them a favor for their readership, but they still may be on to something. Josh Jackson, Editor-in-Chief of Paste magazine, insists that the worst is over and that the donation plan is only temporary. The 15-person staff has taken a 20% pay cut, and the magazine is essentially only making enough money to publish itself and break even. In July, when Paste first started the plan, the standard storyline as it was covered in the news went something like this: “Out of sheer desperation, Paste could have unintentionally found the new model for surviving in the new era of digital journalism.” However, I don’t believe that to be true. What business have you ever heard of that has thrived in an environment where it’s success is wholly dependent on the goodwill of others? It may be a great stopgap solution, but how long can begging for handouts keep a magazine afloat? Or is this really the evolution of how print journalism is funded?