Freedom Isn’t Free

At least it wasn’t, but it could be

Synthesis was something special. It was created in a time when Chico was stacked with bars, the music scene was thriving on a level we can hardly imagine now, and the Internet was little more than a collection of AOL chatrooms and a place to send electronic mail (and download sexxxxy pics, one line at a time). It was the only public forum for creative writers and weirdos to define their community, express their opinions, and hopefully build up the things they loved. It was a dream—Bill’s dream, made real through hard work, trial and error, and the support of many local businesses—that grew into something awesome.

It’s the creative freedom that made Synthesis so unique. We were encouraged to explore our voices and to cover what we wanted to. In that space we sometimes drifted, but other times we found new ways of seeing things, and brought a little more joy into the world. But that freedom wasn’t free, we could only print and distribute our work (and, you know, exist as a company) if the revenue was strong.

So what happened? Well, a few things. Locally, attitudes toward bars and live music venues (and house parties, and holidays…) darkened, and several of them closed without new ones being allowed to take their places. The culture that thrived under the old model contracted. At the same time, the real estate bubble raised rents, and when the economy went into recession businesses had to tighten their budgets. Finally, tech exploded: instead of relying on local print media for their entertainment and information (and fart jokes), everyone got a smartphone to dick around on. Despite all that, we maintained a readership and revenue base; we survived, ran lean, gave everything we could to keep the dream going and ignored the writing on the wall.

But here’s the killer: despite the nostalgia many of us have for the printed word, the business model is obsolete. Advertisers can now reach their target audience cheaper and more effectively through Facebook and other digital avenues. Like it or not, we had to accept it. And we won’t be the last.

So what does that mean? Without the freedom granted by venues like ours, is good, creative writing dead too? Will the local entertainment scene further dwindle without a paper to promote it? I don’t think so. Nobody can stop you from writing, and social media makes it easier than ever to get your voice heard. If you care about it, write about it. If people like it, they’ll follow you and share it around. For the most part this means making money writing about whatever the hell we want is slipping out of reach, but most of us have already been doing this for the love.

Speaking of, I just want to say how much I love and appreciate everyone who made this the experience that it was—from the people who came before me, the people I’ve been blessed to work alongside, and especially to all of you who’ve been kind enough to read. These have been the best two years of my life, and I’m so grateful. Follow your favorite writers online to see what they do next, start your own blog, share events when you see a good one. Freedom is what you make of it.

Managing Editor for Synthesis Weekly. Amy likes to make clothes, plant flowers, and chase butterflies.