This week, Tribune returns to 12 pages after more than ten months at eight pages a week. The reason is simple: using desktop publishing equipment, it now costs us very little to produce extra pages. Before DTP, a 12-page paper cost around £500 a week to typeset and paste up; using DTP; the equivalent process costs under £200. After two months of learning how to use the DTP equipment, we can just about manage to produce 12 pages instead of eight on current staffing levels. We work harder: you get more for your money.
Despite the expansion, Tribune remains in a financially precarious position. Sales and advertising revenue are stagnant, partly as a result of the recession and partly because we have not had adequate funds to spend on promotion. Next year, the paper will have to raise at least £30,000 in donations just to ensure bare survival. More is needed if the paper is to expand its circulation as well as the number of pages.
It will not be easy to secure the funding we need. The trade unions, on which Tribune has relied for much of its recent life, are broke. Although several have pledged substantial support, the total guaranteed is down on last year. Most unions are spending all their political fund cash on helping Labour – itself in dire straits – to win the general election.
This means that, yet again, we will be asking you, our readers, for your support. In the past 12 months, you have given more than £20,000, enough to allow us to introduce the new technology. In the coming year, we will have to ask you to give as much again.
Is it worth it? We think so, and not just because our livelihoods depend on keeping our jobs. A lively, open, democratic left press is an essential element of our political culture – and without Tribune, there would be precious little of the democratic left press left.
The past five years have seen an extraordinary casualty rate among left publications in Britain. The Labour Party killed off Labour Weekly then let New Socialist die on the vine. Incompetence destroyed News on Sunday. City Limits ceased to be left in any meaningful sense last year when it was forced to sell up to Bernard Clark. This year has seen the end of Sanity and the death of Marxism Today. Discounting local and specialist periodicals, the democratic left press in Britain now consists of the New Statesman, Tribune and socialist, the new Socialist Movement fortnightly, which has just announced that it needs £60,000 by March if it is to survive.
Marxism Today would have it that the reason is simple: that sadly there is no market for left periodicals and that the left no longer has anything to say that anyone wants to hear. Many of its obituarists in the national newspapers gleefully agree. But that is too easy an explanation. Nearly all the left press failures of recent times have been publications that simply did not have enough money to promote themselves adequately in the modern marketplace. For the most part, the left press, caught in a vicious circle of undercapitalisation and declining subsidies of various kinds, starved of commercial advertising, has never had the opportunity even to find out whether it has a market.
We are as confident as we can be that Tribune will survive. But mere survival is not enough. We need to break out of the vicious circle – and to do that we need serious money or a Labour government to establish the right to distribution for political papers. The latter is more likely, but anyone offering us £100,000 will not be turned away lightly.