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

The IPA filed its 2004 taxes in November 2005 (extensions are common among nonprofits). It disclosed an annual deficit of roughly $476,000, versus about $78,000 during Anner's final full year. Program revenue increased under Landry, but not nearly enough to cover the drop in fundraising and higher expenses, including Landry's salary of $119,900 — about 40 percent more than Anner had made, and twice the pay of most other IPA managers.

Several publishers believe Landry still doesn't grasp the gravity of the situation. "The explanation we've gotten has boiled down to, 'It's a bad business plan that was set up to fail,'" says Curve's Stevens. "The IPA had very good ideals and set BigTop up to help independent publishers do what we do. But if you put us out of business in the process, then it's more than just, 'It was a bad business decision.'"

This spring, the IPA offered a deal to IPNS clients: Renew your contract for three years, and we'll pay off our debt within weeks. For those that don't renew, Landry has no specifics. He has said he's committed to making all the publishers "whole," but he's made no guarantees about when the IPA will pay up.

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.

The IPA has formed a strategic partnership with Disticor Magazine Distributor Services of Ontario, Canada. Interested publishers sign a three-way contract — the IPA handles the marketing, Disticor handles distribution and accounting. But the agreement with Disticor comes at the 11th hour: Landry had spent the previous year unsuccessfully applying for loans to IPNS from social finance organizations like Rudolph Steiner Foundation, an IPA donor. RSF and others turned him down — the distributor's risk profile was too high.

Meanwhile, IPNS clients are concerned about committing to three more years with a financially struggling organization, and those who've left are worrying whether they'll ever be paid.

"At this point, many of us would like to see their books," says Tikkun's Kaiser. "It's very hard to trust what they're saying and how much money we're going to get paid. ... The real issue is we don't understand if they have the money to pay us or not."

Landry says the Disticor partnership, which is "not a loan," would give the IPA "financial reserves to pay publishers what they're owed." Yet he's keeping the deal's terms confidential, and Disticor did not return calls for comment.

For smaller publications, especially, many questions are left unanswered. If the deal is so good, why did Mother Jones publisher and IPA executive board member Jay Harris turn it down? If Disticor is only covering the debts of publication that stick with IPNS, will the IPA collect enough overdue distributor money to pay off small magazines that turn down the deal and large ones like Bitchand Tikkun that have already left? If Disticor is taking the standard 10 percent national distributor cut, where will IPNS find revenue to sustain its finances?

Member publications, desperate for cash, have two options: sign with Disticor and hope it will pay as promised, or go elsewhere and hope that the IPA will act differently than it has for more than a year.

"It sucks," Punk Planet's Sinker says. "We don't trust them, and we don't know Disticor at all. Now all of a sudden we're in a position where we've got to sign a contract, because we need that money."

Many publishers have decided that a deal backed by Disticor is better than no deal at all. "I don't have any problem working with Disticor," says Jen Angel of Clamor, based in Toledo, Ohio. "If I want to get my magazine out there, I have to go with some big, gross corporation. It's just the way it is."

After speaking to nearly 20 IPA publishers and 10 former staffers, it was apparent that even the angriest still support the company's mission.

Several remain conflicted about the deal. VegNews, for example, is owed almost $20,000 and is still considering whether to sign with Disticor.

Even now, the IPA seems to be confused about the numbers. "In the last couple days, they sent me a contract that included a monetary figure many thousands less than we thought we were owed," Sinker said in late May. "I asked how they were arriving at that figure — then they sent us one for $4,000 higher with no explanation." SF Weeklywas able to confirm only one publication as having received payment in full after signing with Disticor, though most have only recently signed the contracts.

Sinker and his team are weighing their options. "We'll see where it goes," he says. "We're starting at zero. After 12 years in publishing, we're learning that the only people we can trust are ourselves — again."

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