Pulp Friction

The Independent Press Association was founded to champion alternative magazines, but now its members say it has become the kind of hard-hearted corporation it once opposed

Leibsohn says he was "kicked off the board because I asked questions." Shortly before an August executive board meeting, Woodard e-mailed Leibsohn to say she was introducing a motion asking him to relinquish his seat. "[Landry] needs support from us," one line read. "He does not feel that you are supportive."

"I was very supportive," Leibsohn says, "but I also need information. You can't make decisions like that when you don't have information." He considered taking the battle to members, but resigned instead. "I was humiliated, frankly. I ate it because I didn't want to fracture the organization anymore."

Woodard describes the situation as a "personnel issue" — Leibsohn was disruptive in meetings, wasting precious board time on trivial issues. "He's a tough guy to work with, and we tolerated him as long as we could," she says. "It was not Richard [Landry] getting someone off the board who asked important questions. The whole board was frustrated."

The IPA helped get member magazines onto the newsstands in major chain stores.
Gabriela Hasbun
The IPA helped get member magazines onto the newsstands in major chain stores.
The IPA expanded to include such publications as the car-culture quarterly Garage.
Gabriela Hasbun
The IPA expanded to include such publications as the car-culture quarterly Garage.

Last October, just before an emergency board phone call, Landry sent an e-mail to clients outlining IPNS' difficulties, then pledged to keep IPA members updated every two weeks. The updates were imprecise and often delayed. In a typical e-mail, sent just before Christmas 2005, Landry promised further information to members, some of whom were near bankruptcy, by mid-January. "By that point," he wrote, "we believe that things will be a lot clearer. However, until then, we won't know much more than we know now." At the time, the IPA hadn't yet disclosed important facts such as the total amount owed to publishers.

This vagueness only added fuel to the conspiratorial fire. "The [IPA offices] had moved from the Mission to the Financial District, and people started making guesses: 'Why'd they move downtown?' 'While we haven't gotten paid, how much is Richard Landry making?'" says Garage magazine's Stoner. "While we were dunking our torches in lighter fluid and making a run on Frankenstein's castle, the IPA kept saying, 'We're going to figure things out.'... We said, 'Folks, look, if you just tell us what's going on, we can replace conjectures with facts.'"

At the IPA convention in January 2006, at the Marines' Memorial Club & Hotel near Union Square, Landry, Hwang, and Selby stood before dozens of IPNS clients, for the first time answering questions publicly about the financial problems. According to the convention program, the panel's title was "Indy Press Newsstand Update" — because two weeks before, Kaiser, who created the event's curriculum, had convinced Landry and membership director Mike Tekulsky to change it from "Understanding Newsstand Reports," the original title. "Until the end, they thought they'd be able to get people to not talk about the problem," says Kaiser.

"I felt like a deer caught in headlights when the whole crisis emerged so quickly," Landry told them. "I hope we're going to be able over the next few months not only to begin the process of rebuilding our trust with you, but use this entire experience as a lesson about what we need to do going forward."

Some publishers appreciated Landry's sincerity; others called it too little too late. Several IPNS clients soon ended their distribution contracts after hush-hush negotiations with the IPA. These include three of those owed the most money: Tikkun, Bitch, and Mother Jones, whose publisher, Jay Harris, is on the board of the IPA and did not return several e-mails or phone calls. Management at Tikkun declined to comment for this story; according to IPA members and former employees, they had signed a nondisclosure agreement, something Landry does not deny.

Others owed money by IPNS declined to speak about it, fearing that public criticism might decrease their chances of prompt payment. Few publications have considered hiring lawyers. "To a lot of people," Anne Niven says, "the idea of taking IPA to court is like suing Santa or God. It's unthinkable."

In April, several publishers appealed to Niven for advice in dealing with IPNS. She posted to the e-mail list a series of rabble-rousing questions about IPNS, including "Has anyone got up on their hind legs and called for the ouster of the board of directors and top management that led the IPA down this road to hell in a handcart?" Twenty-four hours after the post went up, Hwang sent Niven an e-mail "on behalf of the IPA board and staff" removing her from the e-mail list for this and other "speculative and alarmist" postings. Niven's retribution was to forward Hwang's e-mail to every IPA member she knew. By the time Hwang rescinded the removal, members had founded an alternative e-mail list, which currently attracts more traffic than the official one.

Landry admits that he should've addressed IPNS' problems earlier, but he doesn't see a problem with transparency. "I don't think there's an issue of disclosure or nondisclosure. A number of people wanted a level of information that would've violated our own business ethics in disclosing information that is proprietary to individual clients," he says. "I appreciate the frustration, but we gave the kind of information we felt we could do ethically and morally. ... We're as transparent as every nonprofit is required to be — our books are audited, our tax forms are filed as required."

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