40 Years of Free Minds and Free Markets

An oral history of reason

(Page 5 of 10)

Machan: We moved from Bob’s house to a place on Garden Street and then to State Street [in Santa Barbara]. We had reasonably formidable offices by that time. I remember I used to go around and visit National Review and some other magazines, Human Events, and we were beginning to match those in terms of facilities and overhead.

Marty Zupan started as book review editor in 1975, became associate editor in 1978, and served through the 1980s as managing editor and editor-in-chief, leaving in 1989. She was married to Tibor Machan when she began at the magazine, but they had divorced by the time she left.

Marty Zupan: I had been helping line up book reviews already, basically because I was with Tibor and we were working on things together. So I did copyediting freelance for several years. Then in ’78, when the Foundation was set up and took over the magazine, the intention was to hire a staff for the first time, an editor and assistant editor. I applied for that position, and I won in Bob’s systems-engineering calculation of our strengths and weaknesses. So Bob was editor, I was assistant editor, and that was the staff. Oh, we had a secretary who sometimes showed up, but that was it in the summer of ’78.

It was obvious to me that if reason wanted to grow, it needed to do more than have libertarians talking to one another. When I joined the magazine, it was almost entirely dependent on what people sent in. It was reactive, and changing that took time, some money, and lots of effort to get to a place where you had a good stable of writers regarding you as an outlet, not just academics saying, “This is another place I can put my stuff.”

Poole: With the magazine getting bigger and becoming a bigger responsibility and needing paid staff, Manny, Tibor, and I said we need a financial base under it, or it’s not going to be able to continue. We found all of the easy subscribers, had 10,000–20,000 subscribers, and marginal gains from additional direct mail were hard to come by. We already had the biggest list in the [libertarian] world.

We were not so naive anymore to think it could be made profitable. The only thing we could come up with was to set up a nonprofit that could raise money from donors. We hadn’t thoroughly researched corporate giving, but we found a wealthy individual who grubstaked us for the first two years, gave us office furniture, and promised $25,000 a year for two years.

I took a crash course in nonprofit fund raising at USC and just buckled down and made it the No. 1 priority to figure out where to find money. We found a few foundation grants and a few corporate contributions, and if we hadn’t we would not be having this interview today.

We said, “Let’s leave movement stuff to movement zines and go back to our original vision and make reason a competitor to National Review and The Nation and engage in the battle of ideas with the whole spectrum of thinking people.” We’ve tried to stick with that ever since, with different ways to carry that idea out.

The newsletter Frontlines came from the column on the libertarian movement in reason. Our thought was we might make money, which was another delusion, by creating a spinoff product.

We ended up helping to feed factional fighting among libertarians, and some of our donors were not happy we were doing it. It went on for about four years; then we killed it.

Zupan: When the Foundation was set up, circulation was 15,000. It takes a lot of money to grow your circulation. You can’t get on newsstands until you’re big enough to make a claim to be worth noticing. When I started, reason had no newsstand presence. There were a few places like Menlo Park where you could convince an individual owner to carry this freaky magazine. 

Poole: I don’t recall when newsstand sales began, but it was in the early ’80s, spurred by lots of investigative stories that created some news stories. Every other issue, we’d have a story that someone would talk about on the radio, which stimulated newsstand demand and got distributors to want to carry it. But we still sell only a couple thousand a month on newsstands.

Eric Marti served as assistant editor, then managing editor, from 1982 to 1986.

Eric Marti: When I first got there we still used typewriters to work on copy. I was set up with a desk with an IBM Selectric, and that’s how we produced copy. We hand-edited manuscripts, and we would send them to a typesetter living somewhere in the Bay Area. She would then send us back galley type in strips.

Lynn Scarlett was book review editor from 1982 to 1990.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Lefiti||

    But this marginal right-wing shit doesn't sell very well. Donate now!

  • Lefiti||

    My breath smells like cat food! Donate now!

  • Lefiti||

    I have not posted on this thread yet, you circle-jerkers!

  • Franklin Harris||

    Oliver: An example I recall of how reason was breaking into a more mainstream thing: I was watching Cinemax, one of those late-night films with Shannon Tweed. She played a psychiatrist. In a scene to demonstrate how brainy she was, she was carrying a couple of magazines, and the one on top was reason. That was the early '90s.

    "Indecent Behavior" (1993), I think. Or possibly one of the sequels.

  • ||

    40 years. Wow. And to think that in all that time you've achieved nothing. Time for plan B.

  • ||

    The Spreading Circle of Campus Terror

    Now THAT's what I'm talking about. Get an editor with some Rick James in him.

  • Leftitti||

    I'm a Unitard!

  • ||

    My breath smells like cat food! Donate now!

    Whoever is spoofing Lefiti, you aren't very good at it. Everyone knows Lefiti's breath smells like Sterno and Milk Bones.

  • TallDave||

    I like to think that fist is punching a socialist.

  • the innominate one||

    Everyone knows Lefiti's breath smells like Sterno and Milk Bones.

    no, no, no. Everyone knows lefiti's breath smells like santorum. I saw it written on the men's room wall, and that's confirmation enough for me.

  • the innominate one||

    hmmm, for some reason the server squirrels are inserting their own html into my hyperlink to www.spreadingsantorum.com

  • ||

    Ok, on a serious note.

    I enjoyed this article. As someone who discoved Reason when I went to college in the early 80s (and soon subscribed starting in the mid-80s), I'll been trying to build up a collection of them. Back in the 80s they used to sell back issues (either originals or xerox copies), but I was too poor to get them. I've been getting a few off ebay (including a dozen or so from the first 5 years or so).

    I really wish Reason would do something I've seen a few other mags have done: make available a CD or DVD of ALL their back issues scanned into PDF. If such was made available for a reasonable cost, I'd get it.

    (on a related note, I've been trying to get back issues of Inquiry, and recently put together a complete set of Liberty, thanks to their recent back issue blowout. I was also lucky to score off eBay the hardcopy of Liberatarian Forum in 2 volumes put out by the Ludwig von Mises Institue.)

  • NoStar||

    As a sometimes subscriber going back to the early to mid seventies, this article brought back many fond memories.

  • ||

    ... more people than ever recognize that top-down planning by force isn't the best way to run the world.

    If by that you mean, "people keep turning out in droves to vote for politicians who take away our freedom", then sure.

  • Not That Michael||

    I would be absolutely thrilled if reason brought back whatever designers were responsible for those incredible early covers from the mag's inception up until around '77. At least make the images in the website's cover archive able to be enlarged. Wow.

  • Andy||

    You guys did help in my conversion. Unfortunately, the comments threads tend to help my deconversion lol. Also, I have no power whatsoever. I shudder to think how many Democrats in my age group have been created from the combination of Bush's incompetence and Obama's charisma. You've got your work cut out for you.

    stay classy reason.

  • File under \"S\" for Subject-h||

    "able to be enlarged. Wow."

  • ||

    Libertarianism minus Ayn Rand equals kooky lightweights.

  • ||

    I have subscribed, on and off, to reason for most of its history. One of the best reasons to subscribe to the print edition now is so that you'll have something to read when you're forced to step away from the computer and go to the bathroom.

  • SIV||

    "Lefiti" at 12:21 FTW

    An excellent article but you should have included some thoughts from former intern Taranto

  • the innominate one||

    An excellent article but you should have included some thoughts from former intern Taranto

    AKA SIV?

  • leviramsey||

    Now I know where Howard Stern got his fist logo from...

  • Death to tyrants||

    End the fed!

  • nfl jerseys||


  • sevo||

    "I was excommunicated back in 1963 from the Rand thing."

    In Soviet Union, excommunication comes to you!
    L. Trotsky.


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