YES! Magazine is new media for a new economy

The work of Springboard for the Arts is rooted in arts-based economic and community development. We believe artists are critical assets in that work, and support them by offering a variety of resources that enable them to make both a living and a life. This is why Springboard is a member of the New Economy Coalition (NEC): because we believe in the vision of a new economy, one that is just, sustainable, and democratic; one that is ethical and community-rooted; and one that does not rely on the exploitation of disenfranchised communities in order to thrive. This is the sixth in a series of stories highlighting the work of other arts-based NEC member organizations and organizations with complementary values that have developed ways to sustain themselves while also sustaining artists, demonstrating that, yes, a new economy is possible. Read the rest of the series here.

At a time when the President of the United States of America wages Twitter wars against the “RIGGED” and “FAKE” national media and local newsrooms are gutted to skeleton crews as digital media devours all, it’s not exactly the most favorable time in history to be an independent publisher.

But the Bainbridge Island, Washington-based YES! Magazine, founded in 1996, has been seeing its greatest growth yet.

“The audience we have is very loyal,” says Natalie Lubsen, Audience Relations Manager for YES! “There is something about YES!—the hope, inspiration, and solutions we provide for people—that they feel very connected to it. They see that they’re not alone in the world, that other people are doing things to make the world better even during dark times, and that’s a powerful thing to see and hear about and feel. That’s one reason we have such a strong base of donors and readers: because of the type of journalism we do.”

Audrey Watson, Finance & Operations Director of YES! Magazine celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Founded as a small startup committed to “solutions journalism,” YES! is both a print and digital magazine with an international audience. Lubsen says subscribership to the quarterly print magazine has remained flat in recent years—no small accomplishment, as most print publications across the country continue to watch print subscriptions dramatically decline—while online readership has grown to 5 million worldwide in 2017. And they’re also about to open a second office in Seattle.

As a “solutions journalism” publication, YES! covers movements and community-led initiatives. “Our goal is to inspire people to build a more just, sustainable, and compassionate world through solutions journalism, reporting on the people doing the work of making a better world through community-led solutions,” says Lubsen. “It has really grown into a whole multi-faceted education and media organization.”

The magazine focuses on grassroots solutions to some of society’s greatest problems; and not top-down, corporate-led solutions or the solutions of the powerful. These are solutions people can do themselves and take part of in their own communities. Over the last two decades the magazine has covered grassroots movements as they were developing into major movements getting coverage from mainstream media, including issues of local food, mass incarceration, systemic poverty, Native land rights, and the new economy. In fact, the new economy concept is core to the organization’s identity.

The YES! Magazine editorial wall for a recent issue on mental health.

Co-founder David Korten is an academic and author of the international best sellers When Corporations Rule the World and Agenda for a New Economy. He is also president and founder of the Living Economies Forum, a board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, and co-chair of the New Economy Working Group. In When Corporations Rule the World, Korten envisioned a time when corporations would get larger and larger and continue to concentrate wealth and power and corrupt the government with their financial influence, making it increasingly difficult for communities to determine their own economic future. He wrote this in 1995, in those halcyon days before Google, Apple, and Amazon.

But he believes there is another way, and a “new economy”—one controlled by the people, and not the other way around—is that way.

Because the subject is in keeping with the core values of the organization and its founders, the magazine covers topics in the new economy regularly, but it also practices what it preaches.

For one thing, YES! has never taken in advertising revenue in its 22 years of existence.

According to Lubsen, one-third of YES! Magazine‘s revenue comes from donors, and the rest from a mix of foundation support and subscription sales. While other traditional media outlets had to contend with the new digital universe of click-based ad sales, and the plummeting revenues associated with it, that was never one of the pressures for YES!

When the magazine launched, Korten’s wife Fran took up the mantle of Executive Director after 20 years with the Ford Foundation. She had no background in media, so from the very beginning the magazine’s funding model was something of a hybrid, and nothing like a traditional media outlet’s.

“She went around to publishers and asked, ‘Okay, how do I do this?’ and they said, ‘Well, you can’t not take corporate advertising. You can’t live on subscriptions alone. That’s not going to cut it.’ So right off the bat it was a subscription and donation model,” explains Christine Hanna, current Executive Director of YES! Magazine.

Christine Hanna, Executive Director of YES!

She continues, “The pool of subscribers was where the donors would come from. They fall in love with the magazine and decide the mission is important, so they donate to support it. That was always the model and that was what allowed YES! to steadily grow in a sensible, grassroots way. We never had to figure out how to sustain an advertising model in an online world. It was a matter of principle to begin with, and then survival. It ended up being the model that won out in the end. Now more and more publications are going to a support model with different tiers of benefits.”

Hanna admits that the financial model of YES! hasn’t always been ideal, but now the organization has put policies and procedures in place that more closely reflect its values and the causes it champions.

“For a long time, we didn’t pay writers very well,” she says. “We tried to get everything we could for free; it’s the same story as every nonprofit. But we have upped our standards in terms of how we operate and the protocols we use, and also in terms of paying industry rates for our freelance-based contributors. We have also worked really hard to diversity that base to people who are living and working in the communities they’ve covering.”

She says that the magazine’s goal is to quadruple its audience over the next five years, and right now they’re doing a lot of work to better understand who their audience is and where they want to grow.

“We have a real opportunity at this moment in time for readers to experience that there are still solutions and possibilities,” says Hanna. “There are people who are working on these social problems that concern them, and it’s much more real than it was even five years ago. Much of growing [as a publication] is making these ideas as accessible as possible. Ultimately, whether someone is relatively new to these movements, or whether they’re old, young, Black, white, urban, or rural, they tend to share a core set of beliefs and values, and that’s what ultimately binds them together and what binds them to YES! And those core beliefs are that everyone has a right to a dignified life, we have to preserve earth’s vitality, and everyone as a role to play.”