The great Liberty magazine, edited by R.W. Bradford from 1987 to 2005 and since then by Stephen Cox, has decided to abandon paper and become a completely online journal. This is a harbinger of things to come, as the publishing world adapts to the advent of the Internet and digital information. My own journal, Libertarian Papers, was founded in 2009 as an online journal; and, perhaps presaging things to come, Liberty‘s entire archive was recently put online on Mises.org. Cox himself, a brilliant writer, is also the heroic co-editor (with the brilliant Paul Cantor) of the critically acclaimed Literature and the Economics of Liberty: Spontaneous Order in Culture–published in free online epub and pdf formats by the Mises Institute. The November 2010 issue of Liberty contains the following editorial:
From the Editor
I want to make an announcement about an important change in Liberty. After our next issue — December 2010 — Liberty will cease to be a print journal. Thereafter it will appear online, in a free, fully revised website that will carry features, reviews, reflections, comments from readers, and a complete archive of all the issues we have published since our founding in 1987.
This is a big change, and it brings both happy and unhappy thoughts. Unhappy, because we all value the printed word and the familiar appearance of Liberty. Happy, because online publication will enable our authors’ contributions to appear more frequently, and closer to the events on which they comment. And I predict that an online site will bring us more readers.
My thoughts right now, however, are with the people who read and support Liberty today. One of the great things about editing Liberty is the opportunity to meet its readers. They are great people – and I don’t even mind it when they yell at me. So I want all our readers to know why we’re making the transition from print to online publishing.
One reason is that these are bad financial times, and especially bad for print publications. Like every other intellectual journal in the country, we lose money. Actually, we lose a lot less than most, because we have a tiny staff and we are very careful about what we spend. But unlike many other intellectual journals, we are not sponsored by a large institution. This is good, because we have retained our independence, or what some have called our eccentricity or “quirkiness.” But it means that if we continue in print publication, we will have to stop in the easily foreseeable future. Online publication will allow us to continue indefinitely.
A second reason for the transition is the challenge that print publication presents to our very small and very busy staff. Some of its members have been with Liberty from the start, 23 years ago. But producing a print journal demands a tremendous commitment of time, and some of us find that this commitment has become impossible to sustain.
A third reason is simply that online publication appears to be the way to interest more readers. I myself spend large amounts of time reading news and commentary online, and much of what I read is very good. Our founder, R.W. Bradford, often spoke of the possibility that the day of online publication had come for virtually all intellectual journals. I think he would have wanted to see Liberty’s tradition continue in a form that is immediately accessible to everyone, throughout the world.
So our next print issue will be our last — in that form. We will, of course, send refunds for the unused portions of subscriptions. (Please don’t think you need to write and ask us about that!) In our next issue, I’ll tell you more about our new online way of publishing.
But again, the important person is you. You’ve supported Liberty with your subscriptions, your donations, your praise, your criticism, and your friendship always. I hope you will continue to support us as we change our way of coming to your home.
I think this is an exciting development and wish them well!
Update: Cox’s editorial from the December 2010 (final print issue):
In our November issue, I announced that this would be the last print issue of Liberty. When you read these words, Liberty will have changed to an online journal. All of us will miss the look and feel of printed pages, but we at Liberty believe that we will not only lighten our costs but also increase our readership by going online.
The most important thing for us, however, is to keep our extraordinarily loyal readers with us. To make sure we do, I want to tell you more about Liberty online. To start with, it will be free. No fees; just go to libertyunbound.com and you’ll be at home again. By the way, if you subscribe to the print version of Liberty now, we’ll be refunding the unused portion of your subscription.
The online version of Liberty will publish features, reviews, and reflections, just as we do now; but you won’t have to wait a month to see them. They’ll be posted as soon as they’re ready for publication. The online version will also invite you to post your own comments. And don’t worry about having to wade through a lot of irrelevant or obscene remarks, sent by people who have nothing better to do. We’ll make sure that the posted comments, whatever views they express, make for civilized debate.
A special feature of Liberty online will be an archive of Liberty’s quarter-century of print publication — not just a few articles, but the whole of each issue. It will be one of the largest libraries of libertarian writing ever assembled.
I recently spent a day just browsing through some of the thousands of items contained in this library. I wasn’t surprised to find that Liberty has published virtually every important writer in the libertarian world. Nor was I surprised to find that every kind of writer is represented — statesmen, convicts, economists, historians, vagabonds, poets, philosophers — and every kind of subject. What struck me was how many things seemed new, enlightened, and enlightening. I found myself grinning with appreciation over the stunning arguments for ideas that I happen to favor, and worrying about the clever thrusts that good writers made against them. And always I was thinking, How great it is to read something that’s truly individual! No tired op-eds here. Liberty has always spoken with a thousand voices, and none of them predictable.
Liberty represents and explains, as no other journal has, the history of the libertarian movement. It has published more about our history than any other journal, and even the strictly historical articles are as fresh as dawn. Don’t take my word for it; go to libertyunbound.com and see for yourself.
In 1987, R.W. Bradford founded Liberty as a journal devoted to publishing the best libertarian writing available. For 23 years, we’ve done just that. We’re continuing to do so, in our new online format. We thank you for your loyalty. We ask for your support, as always — the support of the liveliest and most discerning readers in the world for a journal written and produced for their enjoyment.
[Mises blog cross-post]