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How Could You Possibly Go Wrong?

In January 2016, when I launched The Syncopated Times as Publisher and Editor, I had not gauged the full import of assuming responsibility for every aspect of publication. I’d acquired a panoply of associated occupations, including layout specialist, graphic designer, advertising manager, columnist, feature writer, reader liaison, business manager, and subscription manager. I have so many job titles that occasionally I get letters with the salutation “Gentlemen.” I suppose it’s hard to fathom that one person could answer to all of the above, but one does: I contain multitudes.

Some of these duties I took to with enthusiasm. I discovered I had a hitherto unexploited talent for making things look good on a page. I became a whiz at finding and processing photos. I shine as a fact-checker and prose-doctor. I was (and remain) less sanguine about any aspect of this venture involving numbers (such as determining quarterly figures to give my tax accountant) or time-consuming and repetitive (read “non-creative”) tasks.

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At the end of April, I spent two nights labeling postcards to nudge lapsed (and lapsing) subscribers into sending in their renewals. This is my least favorite job, and by putting it off for months I found I had hundreds to get through. There is no way to speed up this process. I printed off all the labels and then personally trimmed and stuck them on my cards. I beguiled the hours into the morning with spooky talk radio to irritate me into wakefulness.

As onerous as this chore may be (even if eased by four hours of Coast to Coast), it’s something I have to do. It’s necessary, for one thing, to determine if my subscriber wishes to continue receiving the paper—or is, in fact, in any condition to do so. As excellent as I think The Syncopated Times may be, I can hardly be offended if I hear that a reader is unable to attend festivals or has other considerations that make the paper superfluous. If they have moved beyond the reach of the United States Postal Service, then I am merely sad.

As for everyone else, I am subject to (mercifully brief) flashes of generosity where I burble that if I could make advertising revenue alone pay my expenses, I could send The Syncopated Times out for free. Except that—I couldn’t possibly.

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“Free” is a beautiful word. Free beer, free lunch, free downloads. The Best Things in Life Are Free. (Though not—God help us—Free Jazz.) But as benevolent a gesture as it might seem to drop copies of The Syncopated Times from a gaudily-decorated biplane, aside from the inevitable charge of littering there is the real risk of this freely-dispensed boon being taken for granted. It’s what I call the “Pennysaver Effect.”

When one encounters a stack of free papers and one needs to wrap breakables—or owns a dog or a parakeet—one is inclined to grab a bunch for these extra-literary purposes. The purloined copies are not read. Sometimes the free paper isn’t fit to be read, but in any event the investments of the advertisers are thwarted. (I confess that I have done this also, though now that I know how much effort is entailed in bringing a paper to press I am disposed to be more respectful.)

Sigmund Freud never saw a Pennysaver, but he flat-out refused to treat any of his psychoanalytic patients without charging a fee. He believed that treating a patient in analysis for free created transference issues that might cause the treatment to fail. My inner dime-store psychologist instead suggests that most of us are convinced, at some basic, visceral level, that You Get What You Pay For.

Unlike old Siggy, I have been known to comp readers, for whatever reasons of my own. And I am delighted to provide sample copies, on the odd chance that a stray reader may approve of what goes on in here and therefore wish to subscribe. I also grant a certain grace period to those who lapse—which is again borne of my reluctance to sit up all night and address postcards. (The lapse, in this case, is all mine.) Nonetheless, I maintain that subscribers to The Syncopated Times who have paid up enjoy it more.

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Those who know me know that I hate to push. Well, this is me pushing—as gently as I can. My advertisers, who do so much of the heavy lifting each month, rely on live (and lively) readers to make their stake in this publication worthwhile. It would be so much easier for everyone involved if I could just say, “Please remit.” Those words refuse to pass my lips.

I’ll throw this out there, though. For every paid subscriber who buys an additional gift subscription or who credibly refers a new subscriber (who must mention your referral), I’ll add an extra three months on to your subscription—per gift or referral.

And once you have mined your paid copy of The Syncopated Times for every available scrap of hot jazz news, historical information, and entertainment, you can still use it to pack Hummels or put it under the dog. How can you go wrong?

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