At the end of November, I noted the remarkable increase in the readership of our webzine over the last couple of years, especially when compared with that of its competitors, both in the alternative and the more establishment opinion media. Three months later, I’m now pleased to say that these trends seem to have continued or even somewhat accelerated, particularly in the last month or so, with our publication easily breaking all-time traffic records for the last two weeks in a row.
Even back in November, our Alexa traffic rankings had placed us well above—in most cases far, far above—the overwhelming majority of alternative media publications despite our relatively recent appearance on the scene and our shoestring operation, together with the regular mistreatment we receive from Social Media giants such as Facebook and Twitter.
Leftwing Counterpunch was founded a quarter century ago and at the beginning of 2017 had nearly twice our traffic, but now our readership is 60% greater. The American Conservative is nearly two decades old, and in the last three years, our traffic rank has grown by over 50%, allowing us to easily overtake it. Founded a dozen years ago, rightwing Takimag still drew a somewhat larger audience in early 2017, but our relative traffic has grown by over 200% since then, and our current traffic is nearly three times as large as that other publication. Our relative performance over the last three years against these fairly prominent alternative media publications is illustrated by the following chart.
Despite numerous skeptics, I think we have proven that there really does seem to be a substantial audience for a publication providing a convenient home to both the Alt-Left and the Alt-Right, joint access to ideological extremists, conspiracy theorists, racialists, historical revisionists, and other miscellaneous malcontents, all the sorts of agitated and conflicting voices which would never be allowed within the ever-narrowing confines of our “legitimate media.”
Moreover, I think the case for the success of our “open door” approach is considerably strengthened by the counterexamples of certain other publications.
For example, just in the last two years Counterpunch, once a mighty voice on the Alternative Left, has purged a very substantial number of its longtime writers who have always fallen outside the left-liberal mainstream, including Israel Shamir, Paul Craig Roberts, Mike Whitney, Diana Johnstone, Linh Dinh, C.J. Hopkins, and Andre Vltchek. These ongoing Counterpunch purges have not gone unnoticed among its former readership, and just a few days ago, the latest instance sparked an accusatory article and a couple of hundred angry comments on a website.
Given this unfortunate situation, we should not be too surprised that Counterpunch‘s Alexa traffic rank has plummeted by nearly 60% during this same period. After all, when nearly all the writers of a publication are required to conform to the ideological boundaries of The Nation, Mother Jones, and these days perhaps even the august New York Times, those vastly more powerful media organs begin to draw off more and more readers.
Although I have been encouraged by our gradual movement towards the top of the universe of alternative media publications, even more heartening—and remarkable—has been the tremendous amount of ground we have gained against some of America’s most venerable and prestigious mainstream publications, whose roots often stretch back a century or more.
For many decades, The New Republic had regularly been seen as one of America’s most influential opinion magazines and at the beginning of 2016 its traffic rank was over 350% higher than our own, giving us just a small slice of TNR‘s readership. But over the last three years, our traffic has nearly doubled and theirs has dropped by almost half, so today their readership is less than 30% larger, an astonishing state of affairs.
Founded a half-century ago, Foreign Policy has long been one of our most prestigious foreign affairs periodicals, a pillar of the elite establishment. Its very popular website boasts a host of prestigious “name” columnists and it describes itself as “the Global Magazine of News and Ideas.” Early in 2016, its readership rank was almost six times higher than ours. But its fall in traffic has been even greater than that of The New Republic, and today we have nearly two-thirds its traffic.
America’s oldest publication and the perennial mainstay of the liberal-left has been The Nation, and three years ago it also had nearly six times our traffic rank. But it has also followed the same downward trajectory as TNR, and its advantage is now merely 30%.
From its founding a half century ago, Reason has always been the most influential libertarian periodical and the technological orientation of its community established it as an early and powerful presence on the Internet. During the early months of 2016, it also had nearly six times our readership and although its decline has not been nearly as precipitous as those other publications, our publication now has over half its readership.
For decades, Commentary served as the flagship of the Neoconservative intellectual movement, and twenty years ago I was enormously gratified when it ran my own article as its cover story and made it the centerpiece of its annual fund-raising letter. Near the beginning of 2017, its readership was still significantly larger than ours, but today our traffic is 400% higher.
These comparative trends over the last three years may easily be displayed in graphical form. A casual examination suggests that it is not entirely impossible that within another year or so, our quite young alternative webzine, operating on a mere shoestring, may have moved past one or more of the most prestigious and influential publications that have so long dominated the American intellectual landscape.
Ironically enough, our website also contains the older PDF archives of several of those famous periodicals, though much of the material is unavailable for reading due to copyright restrictions.
- The New Republic – 96 Years, 4,504 Issues
- The Nation – 119 Years, 5,668 Issues
- Reason – 38 Years, 390 Issues
- Commentary – 61 Years, 665 Issues
I suspect that the clear success of our opinion webzine is only partly due to its own merits and instead heavily depends upon the remarkable failures of so many of its competitors. The classic fable of the one-eyed man in the country of the blind comes to mind.
Following the 2008 Financial Bailout and the early years of the Obama Administration, the neoliberal and neoconservative movements began merging together into a single ideological establishment, representing unified orthodoxy on both economic and foreign policy issues and thereby gradually pulling most established publications of the Left and the Right into their camp. During the 2016 presidential race, it was widely anticipated that Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush would be the contending nominees, fiercely battling each other on hot-button partisan issues while quietly standing together on War, Peace, and the Economy. Such a race would surely have been soporific and vacuous to the vast majority of the general public. The sudden and totally unexpected populist rise of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump fractured this projected narrative, and Trump’s election shredded it.
Although the most extreme Neocon elements soon regained control over the foreign policy of the Trump Administration, American’s ruling ideological establishment was horrified by the close call they had suffered, and began an unprecedented attack upon the Internet and dissident publications and writers, with mass bannings, harsh censorship, and widespread “de-platforming.” The most utterly ridiculous accusations—suggesting that Ron Paul was a Russian agent of influence—soon began echoing within the corporate media, and many alternative websites were cowed into trimming their dissenting sails lest they suffer severe consequences.
Many critics were jubilant over the recent closure of The Weekly Standard, the Neocon organ most heavily responsible for the disastrous Iraq War, they have misunderstood the reality of the situation. With so many similar Neocon ideologues now firmly ensconced on the editorial pages of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and every other major newspaper, Bill Kristol’s former publication no longer had any real role to play. I think a case can be made that with the exception of a few zealous Trump partisans here and there, the establishmentarian American media landscape is more totally unified than it has been for decades, especially with regard to foreign policy issues, and dissenting voices never so unwelcome.
When a country’s ruling elites are highly unified but fearful of maintaining their continuing power in the face of popular discontent, harsh crackdowns are a natural consequence, and America’s widely enshrined First Amendment liberties are now being increasingly circumvented on the Internet by utilizing the corporate monopolies that control that means of communication. During the 1950s, any proposal to ban suspected Communists from making telephone calls, watching television, or having bank accounts would have been ridiculed as utter lunacy, but in today’s America, equivalent actions are steadily growing more frequent and more severe.
With so many vibrant alternative publications having been brought into line and so many once raucous comment sections now strictly policed by strict identity registration requirements or eliminated completely, our webzine has gradually become a much bigger fish in the rapidly shrinking pond of free thought on the Internet.
We shall see whether the angry flapping of our contributing writers achieves any result before the “Powers That Be” complete their total evaporation of all remaining intellectual freedom in the Western world.